California Lawmakers Near BPA Ban for Child Containers

California's State Assembly on Thursday approved a bill to ban the chemical bisphenol A in food and drink containers designed for young children, but it was unclear if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign it into law.

The State Senate has already passed a version of the bill and is expected to back changes in the Assembly, which would send the bill to Schwarzenegger, said a spokeswoman for Senator Fran Pavley, the bill's sponsor.

A spokesman for the governor said he had not yet taken a position on the bill, which would ban bisphenol A, or BPA, in containers for children 3 years old and younger in the most populous U.S. state.

The chemical has been used for decades to harden plastics and turns up in many food and beverage containers and the linings of food containers.

The main fears stem from its potential effects as an endocrine disrupter, commonly known as gender-bending. Endocrine disrupters can mimic or interfere with the body's natural hormones, damaging development, especially of young children.

The federal agency that investigates health risks is concerned that the chemical may harm people and is spending $20 million to study it. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has launched 11 new animal studies to investigate its possible effects.

Canada plans to ban plastic baby bottles made with BPA. Last month scientists and international health organizations from around the world called on Europe's food safety watchdog to regulate BPA.

Experts estimate that BPA is detectable in the bodies of more than 90 percent of the U.S. and European population. It is one of the world's most widely manufactured chemicals, with more than 2.2 million tons produced each year.