Sacramento, Calif. Responding to growing consumer anxiety, California lawmakers are considering enacting what could be the first statewide restrictions on a chemical found in plastic baby bottles and infant formula cans.
The bill would require that all products or food containers designed for children 3 years and younger contain only trace amounts of the chemical, bisphenol A.
There is little dispute that bisphenol A can disrupt the hormonal system, but scientists differ on whether the very low amounts found in food and beverage containers can be harmful.
The National Toxicology Program, a partnership of federal health agencies, said in a recent draft report that there is "some concern" that the chemical can cause changes in behavior and the brain, and that it may reduce survival and birth weight in fetuses. The conclusion was based on animal studies.
However, the Food and Drug Administration's associate commissioner for science, Dr. Norris Alderson, told Congress in June that there was no reason for consumers to stop using products that contain the chemical.
Despite the uncertainty, consumer concern has prompted some governments and retailers to act.
Congress is considering legislation to ban it in children's products, and Canada has announced it intends to ban the use of the chemical in baby bottles.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R" Us Inc. say they will stop selling baby bottles made with the chemical next year, and the maker of the hard-plastic Nalgene water bottles announced in April that it would stop using the chemical.
At least 11 other states have considered bills to restrict it.
California's bill was approved earlier this year by the state Senate and it is awaiting a vote by the Assembly. It's not yet clear whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign it if the Legislature sends it to him.
The bill's author, state Sen. Carole Migden, said California is simply following in the footsteps of retailers that are voluntarily pulling products from store shelves.
"I think manufacturers who make money should do all they can to make their products safe," said Migden, D-San Francisco. "This is just one step. It ought to be banned for everything."
Bisphenol A is found in dental sealants, the linings of food cans, CDs and DVDs, eyeglasses and hundreds of other household goods. The chemical industry, grocery retailers, bottled water companies and food processors say it has been used safely for more than 50 years.