Even after scientists crushingly denounced both its methods and its conclusions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still brooding over what to do about bisphenol A.

That's the omnipresent chemical that makes baby bottles tough and helps keep the inside of metal cans bacteria-free. But a cascade of animal research also links BPA to behavioral disorders, breast cancer, heart attacks, fertility problems and diabetes.

Here, then, is what the FDA should do, considering its mission to protect U.S. consumers, not the chemical industry.

First, the FDA should promptly ban BPA from all containers for children's food, formula and beverages.

It should require BPA labels on other products, warn consumers not to microwave plastics of any kind and consider an overall BPA ban in food and beverage containers.

And it should educate the public about what is already known about this chemical while pushing industry to replace it.

It's not as if there's a shortage of research on BPA. The FDA has just ignored it.

Created in 1891, bisphenol A was intended as an estrogen replacement. By the 1950s, industry was using it to harden plastics and to make resin liners for food and beverage cans.

Because BPA leaches into foods, it now turns up in the urine of 93 percent of Americans. It is especially dangerous, much research shows, to the still-forming brains and bodies of fetuses, babies and children. Unfortunately, BPA lurks in the lining of formula cans and laces baby bottles and sippy cups.

For decades, the FDA like regulators in Japan, Europe and Canada believed tiny amounts of the chemical were harmless. But in recent years, hundreds of scientific studies have persuasively shown the opposite.

Last year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed 258 of the most important BPA studies, and found that almost all linked this endocrine imitator to serious disorders in lab animals.

BPA, the paper found, contributed to breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity and reproductive problems.

Only a small number of studies, mostly financed by industry sources, found the chemical harmless.

Several scientific panels confirmed the paper's analysis. Last spring, the National Toxicology Program a separate federal agency from the FDA voiced "some concern for the effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A."

And the chemical is everywhere. Just this month, another Journal-Sentinel study found that toxic levels of BPA leach out, after heating, from infant products marketed as "microwave safe."

The evidence finally has piled high enough for regulators in Canada. In October, they branded BPA toxic, banning its use in baby bottles. Wal-Mart, Toys "R” Us and CVS have also dropped children's products containing the chemical.

The FDA, however, seems to prioritize the chemical industry's safety. In late summer, it released a draft report deeming BPA harmless at current levels of exposure. As for Canada's ban of the substance? "An abundance of caution," the U.S. agency said.

Since the FDA's report, scientists inside and outside the agency have rained down disapproval.

Asked by the FDA to review its August findings, an expert panel issued a damning critique. The FDA's "conclusions are not supported by the available data and science," the group said.

Specifically, they complained, the agency ignored more than 100 studies suggesting BPA's dangers. Instead, it mostly considered studies bankrolled by industry.

Appallingly, industry representatives actually wrote whole passages of the FDA report, the Journal Sentinel found.

Hammered by criticism, the FDA's chief has pledged to come up with a response by the end of this month. According to a spokesman, the agency reckons "additional research will be valuable."

Indeed it will.

After all, BPA may have already contributed to behavior and fertility disorders, heart failure and diabetes in millions of Americans.

But the FDA, like its Canadian counterpart, must act now to protect American children and to reclaim its devastated credibility. Banning BPA in baby bottles, formula and food containers is a crucial start.

URL: http://www.chron.com

—Houston Chronicle