Health agencies call for more study on bisphenol-A

NEW YORK — Federal health agencies said today recent research shows cause for concern over the chemical bisphenol-A’s potential effect on children, but more study is needed before any regulatory changes are considered.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said today they would expand efforts to research and track possible harmful effects of BPA. The chemical is used to harden plastics and has been used in water bottles, canned food lining and hundreds of other household items.

The health agencies’ key concern is BPA’s use in baby bottles and the linings of cans of liquid infant formula.

The Food and Drug Administration ruled last year trace amounts that leach out of bottles and food packaging are not dangerous. FDA officials then said they would revisit that conclusion after scientists complained it relied on a small number of industry-sponsored studies.

Some scientists believe that BPA exposure can harm the reproductive and nervous systems and possibly promote cancers. They point to findings of dozens of animal studies involving BPA, though the negative effects have not been recorded in human studies.

BPA is found in hundreds of kinds of plastic items, everything from glasses to CDs to canned food, including liquid infant formula. About 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies, as the chemical leaches out of food containers.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, reiterated today that studies have supported the safety of BPA. The group represents BPA producers including Dow Chemical Co., Bayer AG and Hexion Specialty Chemicals.

“Extensive scientific studies have shown that BPA is quickly metabolized and excreted and does not accumulate in the body,” said an American Chemistry Council statement. “BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals in commerce today.”

Regulators, though, feel there is a need for more research.

William Corr, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said continued concerns over the subtle effects of BPA in laboratory animals prompted the agencies to develop a new research plan, with coordinated efforts from the Department of Health, the FDA, and others. The agencies will use $30 million in funding over the next 18 to 24 months to further assess the chemical in animal and human studies.

“It has not been found or proven to be harmful to children or adults,” Corr said. “But the data we’re getting deserves a much closer look.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health recommended several steps for families concerned about BPA’s effects on infants and children, including throwing away scratched plastic baby bottles and refraining from putting hot liquids in bottles that could contain BPA.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said that agency shares concerns over potential health issues with BPA but “needs to know more.” The agency, meanwhile, supports industry measures to stop the production of BPA-lined containers and cans.

The six major makers of baby bottles and infant feeding cups no longer use BPA in those products in the U.S., the agency said. Those products, which include Gerber and Playtex, represent more than 90 percent of the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, the agency wants a better regulatory framework for the chemical. Currently, the chemical is grandfathered into a regulation that doesn’t require industry disclosure on the amounts used in products.

Dr. Sarah Janssen, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said the FDA already has the authority to ban certain uses of BPA, despite the agency’s claim.

“More research is always good, but we know enough now to act,” she said, calling the more aggressive stance on the chemical “too little, too late.”

“They could have made some very clear recommendations. Instead, they made some conflicting statements that didn’t give any clear advice,” she said.

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