Dr. Martin Philbert is on an FDA expert panel about to make a pivotal ruling about the safety of the plasticizer bisphenol A (BPA) - the plasticizer found in baby bottles and consumer products that appears to mimic hormones and is linked to diseases such as cancer.
Philbert is also now the focus of a FDA probe into a conflict-of-interest after he took $5 million from a wealthy businessman with ties to the medical industry, then failed to disclose it.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed he had received the donation from Charles Gelman, who is a retired medical supply manufacturer. Michigan’s department of Natural Resources once cited Gelman as the state’s second worst polluter.
Philbert is the chairman of the FDA subcommittee that’s reviewing an earlier ruling on the safety of BPA.
The $5 million donation came last July, at the same time Philbert was named the chair of the FDA expert panel. He had reportedly been seeking the donation from Gelman, but failed to disclose it when he filled out the FDA conflict-of-interest statement as he’s required to do.
Philbert told AP the donation was not made to him but to the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center that he directs.
Several in Congress are urging Philbert to step down and return the $5 million.
Gelman has told the newspaper he considers BPA to be perfectly safe. He is an outspoken activist against regulation who worries that the chemical’s dangers are being exaggerated by “mother’s groups and others who don’t know the science.”
The Journal Sentinel story was reprinted in the Washington Post and the New York Times wrote an editorial calling for Philbert to step down and for the FDA to investigate.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) says the situation is disturbing. “Mr. Philbert’s role in determining the safety of BPA should be re-evaluated. If the FDA fails to address this issue, I would urge Mr. Philbert to recuse himself.”
Rep. John Dingell and Bart Stupak of Michigan plan to investigate the potential conflict as does Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts. They say the credibility of the FDA is at stake.
The Environmental Working Group is calling for an investigation. Richard Wiles, the president says “Dr. Philbert has 5 million reasons to make sure FDA comes down in favor of the chemical industry and against protecting the health of millions of babies.”
Dr. Philbert has not responded to the Journal Sentinel, but told the AP, “as soon as I comprehended the substance, I interrupted politely and said this is inappropriate,” referring to conversations with Gelman trying to bring up the subject of BPA.
Dr. Philbert’s report on bisphenol safety is due at the end of the month.
BPA or bisphenol A has long been suspected to disrupt the developing brains and behavior of fetuses and young children. BPA is currently being studied for its suspected link to premature puberty.
Just this week, 11 makers of plastic baby bottles received urgent letters from the Attorneys General of Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut, urging them to stop using Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby products. #