WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal agency that investigates health risks is concerned that the chemical bisphenol A may harm people and is spending $20 million to study the substance, widely used in food containers, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has launched 11 new animal studies to investigate the possible effects of bisphenol A or BPA, NIEHS director Linda Birnbaum told Congress.
“There are concerns about multiple possible health effects of BPA exposure,” Birnbaum told a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Environment Subcommittee.
“While much of the exposure to BPA in humans occurs through the diet, other sources of exposure include air, dust and water,” she told the hearing, called to examine endocrine disruptors in drinking water.
Endocrine disruptors are natural or synthetic chemicals that may interfere with or mimic human hormones that regulate growth and development.
Canada plans to ban plastic baby bottles made with BPA. 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.
Some British scientists and U.S. health groups are calling for similar action.
The chairman of panel, Representative Edward Markey, said that chemicals showing up U.S. waterways and drinking water have been linked to deformities in fish, frogs and other wildlife. BPA leaches into the water supply when containers made with the chemical are discarded.
“There are serious concerns that the same chemicals that are responsible for these deformities in wildlife may also have similar effects in humans and may be the culprit for the widespread increase in human disorders such as infertility, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said Markey, author of a bill to ban Bisphenol A in food and beverage containers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January raised its assessment of bisphenol A to a chemical of concern.
Birnbaum said there is concern that drinking water might be a “significant route of exposure” for potential endocrine disruptors such as BPA and that even low doses can have an effect on the body.
British scientists have linked BPA to heart disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities. But other scientists disagree.
A former member of an advisory committee to Environmental Protection Agency, Christopher Borgert, told the congressional panel that current levels of BPA exposure are unlikely to pose a risk to humans.
“I don’t think the science would support the total banning of BPA at the levels it’s being used today in America,” Borgert said.
The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, maintains that extensive studies have shown that BPA is quickly excreted and does not accumulate in the body.
But experts also raise the question of what would replace BPA. Separately on Thursday, the New Jersey Institute of Technology said a researcher there, Michael Jaffee, had filed a patent for a sugar-based chemical that may be a substitute for BPA in consumer products, including the lining of cans.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Cynthia Osterman