Tuesday, December 23, 2008
From tomorrow's New York Times. The FDA has decided to reconsider the dangers posed by bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in plastic bottles, the linings of metal cans, and other often used household products after an FDA advisory committee on the subject accused the administration of being too lax in its review of these dangers. Canada has added BPA to its list of toxic substances and plans to ban it from baby bottles. There is some dispute over what dangers BPA actually poses to humans. Animal studies have shown various dangerous outcomes, but multigenerational studies (conducted by the industry) showed little or no risk at low levels of exposure. This brings up a critical issue in tort causation - can (or should) animal studies be used to prove causation? Often the tort system, because of statute of limitations issues, has to proceed before science can catch up. Furthermore, it is difficult to conduct controlled human studies with toxic substances, and thus consumers end up being the proverbial guinea pigs. For example, the Times article explains:
The Environmental Protection Agency has calculated that adults and infants can consume 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight every day over a lifetime with little appreciable risk of harm. Yet more than 40 studies have found health effects in rodents fed as little as 0.2 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, according to Frederick S. vom Saal, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and a leading BPA researcher.
The Times article states that the Philips, the makers of Avent brand bottles, will begin selling BPA free bottles shortly or perhaps already have. Its good to see manufacturers being responsive even before the FDA acts, but seems clear that consumers cannot rely on manufacturers to change their formulation without some pressure, either regulatory, legal (i.e. the tort system) or from consumer action. The more responsive companies are early on in these types of things, the more likely they are to draw consumers and sustain their confidence.