Panel Rebukes FDA on Plastic Bottle Safety

Scientific advisers say the FDA's assessment that BPA is safe was flawed.

Oct. 29, 2008 — -- Do your baby bottles, water bottles and other hard plastic containers have a recycling number 7 printed on them? If so, they may not be as safe as the U.S. government initially said.

This week, scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration said the agency's conclusions were flawed when it came to determining whether the chemical in those products was safe for consumers' health, according to a report released Tuesday.

Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" TONIGHT at 6:30 ET for the full report.

The latest report is at odds with the FDA's repeated assurances that the chemical bisphenol A, known as BPA, is safe. The FDA has said BPA is not a problem at current levels of exposure despite actions taken by other governments and manufacturers of plastic products that suggest otherwise.

"When we looked at the draft report, we felt that it was incomplete in a few very important aspects," Dr. Garret FitzGerald, a member of the scientific advisory board and a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told ABC News on Wednesday.

"The original draft was largely configured on the results of studies that had been supported by industry to meet regulatory requirements," he said.

The advisory board's report found that the exclusion of certain studies from its assessment and a less-than-full examination of how BPA can affect the prostate and neurobehavior amounted to "a major omission" on the part of the FDA.

It also said certain topics were "not well explored" and concluded that the FDA's assessment has "important limitations" because it did not use enough samples of infant formula to adequately examine babies' exposure to the chemical.

Today in Los Angeles, consumer Sabrina Weisz found those findings disturbing.

"It feels like it's just one more thing out there that we have to worry about and we shouldn't have to worry about it," Weisz said. "We should be able to trust those that say they are testing and say things are safe. We should be able to trust those people. And it worries me."

The FDA has been planning to discuss the chemical at a meeting Friday.

In a statement released Tuesday night, the agency said, "The subcommittee report to the Science Board raises important questions regarding the draft safety assessment, and the FDA looks forward to the review of the subcommittee's report by the Science Board on Oct.31."

The FDA also suggested alternatives for worried parents whose young children are thought to be most at risk from BPA exposure.

"Parents who, as a precaution, wish to use alternatives for their bottle-fed babies can use glass and other substitutes for polycarbonate plastic bottles; avoid heating formula in polycarbonate plastic bottles; and consult their pediatrician about switching to powdered infant formula."

A Dec. 2007 study from the Environmental Working Group found that BPA was less likely to leach into powdered formula than liquid formula.

A Simmering Controversy

Parents, medical experts and lawmakers have long said the agency made the wrong call in approving the chemical.

But controversy over BPA has reached new heights in recent months. A few weeks ago, Canada declared the chemical toxic and banned using it in baby bottles. In September, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association linked the chemical to diabetes and heart disease in adults.

Earlier this spring, an evaluation released by the Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program also raised concerns, finding that "the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed."

That evaluation expressed concern that BPA could have neural and behavioral effects on fetuses, infants and children at existing exposure levels.

On Wednesday, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., told ABC News he was "not surprised" about the newest report. "I was suspect of what the FDA was doing with BPA, and obviously it means they have to do a lot more investigation," he said.

The chemical that helps make plastic shatter-resistant, used in food and drink containers, as well as products ranging from bike helmets to dental sealants, is believed to leach out of the products that contain it. As a result, several manufacturers have started to advertise their products as BPA-free to continue attracting buyers.

On Tuesday, the American Chemistry Council released a statement on the latest conclusions.

"Once the FDA assessment is complete, the public can be assured that ACC and its member companies will comply with FDA's direction," the chemical industry group said. "If the agency determines that existing margins of safety are insufficient in infant applications, our member companies that manufacture BPA will put processes in place to promptly phase out the use of materials containing BPA in baby bottles and infant formula packaging."

Reacting to this week's report, the FDA, too, said additional studies would be helpful and said the agency is already planning to do more research.

Still, some on Wednesday questioned why the agency has not banned the chemical altogether.

"I've only been a mother for four months and everyone I know avoids it, so I don't see why they wouldn't ban it," said mother Reagan Morris.

"Our critical response is part of the FDA process," FitzGerald said. "That's one reason why the public should be really encouraged by this -- that the FDA is taking a sophisticated, complex and wide ranging approach to such an important issue that is so loaded with emotional content."

ABC News' Matt Hosford contributed to this report.