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According to a court settlement reached Wednesday between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the FDA must come up with a decision by March 31 on whether to ban bisphenol A, or BPA.  NRDC cited a growing body of research that suggests exposure to the chemical might pose serious health risks. BPA is a chemical that is widely used in plastics and the metal linings of food containers.

The NRDC filed a petition in 2008 asking the agency to ban the chemical. When the FDA failed to respond within the time frame required by law, the NRDC sued the agency. The settlement forces the FDA to take a position on a chemical that’s been used for more than four decades to make everything from the cans for liquid infant formula to the coating on grocery store receipts.

For years, the government has maintained that low doses of BPA are safe. In January, however, the FDA shifted positions and acknowledged that advances in science have raised “some concern” about the chemical’s health risks. The government is now investing $30 million to conduct research on the topic.

In its petition, NRDC cited research that links BPA to reproductive problems, certain cancers and behavioral issues in children. In October, a government-funded study published in the journal Pediatrics suggested that BPA exposure in the womb could lead to behavioral problems in girls, including anxiety and depression.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents the chemical industry, dismissed Wednesday’s settlement as a “non-event.”The group maintains that BPA is safe and complains that various state actions to restrict BPA use have confused people over the health risks. For instance, consumer fears prompted manufacturers of baby bottles and sippy cups to stop using the chemical in these products several years ago.  According to ACC, the consensus of government regulatory bodies around the world, including theU.S. FDA and the European Food Safety Authority, is that BPA is safe for use in food-contact materials.

Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is introducing legislation that would rid BPA from all food and beverage containers. (Wash Post, 12/8/2011)