Soda canA leading environmental group has sued the Food and Drug Administration for dragging its feet on its request 20 months ago to ban the use of bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical, in food packaging.

The Natural Resources Defense Council filed the lawsuit in a federal appeals court after giving the FDA almost two years to act on a citizen petition the group submitted in October 2008. The agency's silence may be partly due to the ubiquitous use of BPA by food and beverage packagers, according to an NRDC spokeswoman.

"There's an intense business interest in keeping that chemical in the market, and a lot of industries use it," said Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist in the Environment and Public Health program at NRDC. "We understand there are a lot of important and competing issues for the FDA to deal with, but 20 months is really an unreasonable amount of time."

BPA is used in a wide variety of consumer products, including soda, beer, fruit and vegatable cans, reusable water bottles, sippy cups, pizza boxes, the lining of infant formula cans, and other polycarbonate plastics. The hormone-disrupting chemical is linked to serious health problems such as altered brain development in fetuses and children, cancer, diabetes, infertility, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, BPA is so common that more than 90% of Americans are estimated to carry traces of it in their bodies.

"The FDA has failed to safeguard the food supply and protect the public from harm," Aaron Colangelo, an attorney for the nonprofit, said in a statement. "The FDA's failure to regulate this chemical in food packaging is unjustified, and so we are forced to ask the court to intervene and order the agency to take action."

A spokesman for the FDA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The NRDC suit comes on the heels of an influential report by the Institute of Medicine showing the FDA needs more authority, efficiency and proactive management in order to help protect the public from food-borne illness outbreaks.

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