WASHINGTON – A chemical used to make baby bottles and other shatterproof plastic containers could be linked to a range of hormonal problems, a preliminary government report has found.
The report was greeted by some environmental groups as confirmation of their concerns, while chemical makers latched on to the report's preliminary nature and its authors' warning against drawing overly worrisome conclusions.
The federal National Toxicology Program said Tuesday that experiments on rats found precancerous tumors, urinary tract problems and early puberty when the animals were fed or injected with low doses of the plastics chemical bisphenol A.
While such animal studies only provide "limited evidence" of bisphenol's developmental risks, the group's draft report stresses the possible effects on humans "cannot be dismissed." The group is made up of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the Institutes of Health.
More than 90 percent of Americans are exposed to trace amounts of bisphenol, according to the CDC. The chemical leaches out of water bottles, the lining of cans and other items made with it.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers, said the report "affirms that there are no serious or high level concerns for adverse effects of bisphenol on human reproduction and development." Among the manufacturers of bisphenol are Dow Chemical Co. and BASF Group.
The group said it supports additional research to determine whether adverse effects seen in animals "are of any significance to human health."
Environmentalists, meanwhile, hailed the report as the first step toward reassessing a chemical they believe could contribute to cancer and other health problems.
"We're hoping this decision will force FDA to recognize the toxicity of this chemical and make manufacturers set a safety standard that's protective of the most vulnerable populations," said Dr. Anila Jacob of the Environmental Working Group.
The toxicology group's findings echo those of researchers assembled by the National Institutes of Health, who last August called for more research on bisphenol in humans.
The FDA in November said there is "no reason at this time to ban or otherwise restrict its use." The agency on Tuesday did not immediately have any comment about the new report.
But growing concern about the chemical has pushed many consumers toward glass alternatives, and triggered investigations by state and federal lawmakers.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., called on FDA Tuesday to reconsider the safety of bisphenol, saying the toxicology report's findings "fly in the face of the FDA's determination."
Dingell, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued letters to seven companies that make baby formulations earlier this year, questioning whether they use bisphenol in the lining of their cans and bottles.
The companies included Hain Celestial Group, Nestle USA and Abbott Laboratories.
A spokeswoman for the International Formula Council, which represents baby food makers, said Tuesday "the overwhelming scientific evidence supports the safety" of bisphenol, adding that no foreign governments have restricted or banned its use.
The National Toxicology Program will take public comments on its initial report through May. A final version will be issued this summer.
Earlier this month state lawmakers in New Jersey passed a bill that would ban the sale of all products containing bisphenol.
Canada's health agency is also examining the health risks of bisphenol is expected to issue its findings in coming days.