WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A chemical in some plastic food and drink packaging including baby bottles may be tied to early puberty and prostate and breast cancer, the U.S. government said on Tuesday.
Based on draft findings by the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, senior congressional Democrats asked the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider its view that the chemical bisphenol A is safe in products for use by infants and children.
The chemical, also called BPA, is used in many baby bottles and the plastic lining of cans of infant formula.
The National Toxicology Program went further than previous U.S. government statements on possible health risks from BPA.
It said: "There is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures." The findings expressed concern about exposure in these populations, "based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females."
Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, said the draft cast doubt on the FDA's position that BPA was safe.
"I hope the FDA is willing to reconsider their position on BPA for the safety of our infants and children," he said.
The National Toxicology Program said laboratory rodents exposed to BPA levels similar to human exposures developed precancerous lesions in the prostate and mammary glands, among other things.
"The possibility that bisphenol A may impact human development cannot be dismissed. More research is needed," the agency said.
Bisphenol A is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins and can be found in food and drink packaging as well as compact discs and some medical devices. Some dental sealants or composites contain it as well.
The National Toxicology Program expressed "negligible concern" that exposure of pregnant women to BPA causes fetal or neonatal death, birth defects or reduced birth weight and growth in babies. It also had "negligible concern" that exposure causes reproductive problems in adults.
The American Chemistry Council industry group said the conclusions confirmed that human exposure to bisphenol A is extremely low and noted no direct evidence that exposure adversely affects reproduction or development in humans.
In Canada, the Globe and Mail newspaper said the Canadian health ministry was ready to declare BPA a dangerous substance, making it the first regulatory body in the world to reach such a determination. The newspaper said the ministry could announce the decision as soon as Wednesday.
Environmental activists long have warned about health concerns regarding the chemical. They praised the draft findings of the National Toxicology Program, which cited more potential worries about the chemical than did a panel of experts that advised the program last year.
"NTP's decision corrects the scientific record. It reflects a significant body of science showing that BPA may play a larger role than previously thought in a host of common health problems," Anila Jacob of the Environmental Working Group said in a statement.
Editing by Alan Elsner and Maggie Fox