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Did Lobbyists Push Off Regulation of a Controversial Chemical?

Plastic containers containing BPA usually have a '7' symbol (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences).This is one of our editors' picks from our ongoing roundup of Investigations Elsewhere.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last weekend that the Environmental Protection Agency delayed regulation of the controversial chemical bisphenol A – known as BPA – just eight days after industry lobbyists met with White House officials and "aggressively pleaded its case that BPA should not be flagged for greater regulation."

Hundreds of studies have linked the chemical, which lines most food and beverage cans, to a litany of health problems, including cancer. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration reversed its 2008 conclusion that BPA was safe for everyone. (That decision, the Journal Sentinel reported previously in its series on BPA, was based on two studies paid for by the chemical industry.) And the National Toxicology Program has also expressed concern about BPA’s effect on fetuses and children, after analyzing 700 studies.

On Dec. 30, the EPA – which, the Journal Sentinel noted, has "a broader regulatory reach [than the FDA] when it comes to chemicals" – produced its list of chemicals that would be subject to stricter regulation. BPA was not on it, which surprised some, given that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has publicly singled out BPA as high on her list of chemicals deserving tougher regulation. Now the agency says "it won't develop a tougher regulatory plan for the chemical for at least two years" (in the words of the Journal Sentinel).

The chemical industry contends that BPA is safe. On Dec. 22, industry lobbyists met with employees of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a division of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and pointed to supporting studies. According to the Journal Sentinel, only one of them "was written by a scientist without ties to the industry." The Journal Sentinel cites government watchdogs as saying that OMB support is crucial for those pressing an agenda.

The newspaper does not, however, say whether BPA had initially been on the EPA’s list, nor does it cite any evidence that the meeting influenced EPA decisions. EPA officials would not tell the Journal Sentinel why the chemical was not on the list. A spokeswoman for Jackson said that the agency is continuing to develop action plans on other chemicals, including BPA. The paper’s attempts to reach staff members at the OMB were unsuccessful.

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