The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday said it sees no reason to tell consumers to stop using products such as baby bottles made with a controversial chemical found in many plastic items.
Norris Alderson, the FDA's associate commissioner for science, said although the regulatory agency is reviewing safety concerns about the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, "a large body of available evidence" shows that products such as liquid or food containers made with it are safe.
In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Alderson also defended the FDA's reliance on two industry-funded studies in determining that products containing BPA are safe.
Many studies have found a variety of health problems in laboratory animals exposed to BPA.
Some senators faulted the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission for failing to protect U.S. consumers from BPA as well as phthalates, a class of chemicals used to improve flexibility in plastics.
The Senate in March passed legislation that would impose a nationwide ban on phthalates in children's toys and products.
"The FDA could hardly be doing less," Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts told Alderson.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the FDA was "looking the other way" on safety concerns about BPA. "Parents always err on the side of caution when it comes to their kids' health. We think that the law should do the same," he added.
Schumer, Kerry and other Democratic senators in April introduced a bill to ban BPA in children's products. It also would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study health effects of BPA in children and adults.
Consumer groups and other critics have accused the FDA of failing to act on safety concerns regarding BPA and other issues, bowing instead to industry positions.
Alderson said he heads an FDA task force that is reviewing safety concerns concerning BPA. He said although this review is ongoing, the FDA has no reason to recommend that consumers stop using products made with BPA. He also noted that similar products made without BPA are available.
Alderson said the FDA is looking at a draft report issued in April by the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health, that expressed some concern that BPA had the potential to cause neural and behavioral problems in fetuses, infants and children.
Relying on animal studies, the National Toxicology Program said there was evidence suggesting links between BPA exposure and early puberty and prostate and breast cancer in people, becoming the first federal agency to embrace such concerns.
The federal agencies that regulate the use of BPA have joined with the chemical industry in defending its safety. If the FDA review finds that products made with BPA are unsafe, it would take action to protect the public, Alderson said.
Some retailers, including Wal-Mart and Toys R Us, are planning to stop selling certain items made with BPA.
BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, a clear shatter-resistant material in products ranging from baby and water bottles to sports safety equipment and medical devices.
It also is used to make durable epoxy resins used as the coating in most food and beverage cans and in dental fillings.
People can consume BPA when it leaches out of plastic into liquid such as baby formula, water or food inside a container.