LOS ANGELES - A controversial, estrogenlike chemical in plastic could be harming the development of children's brains and reproductive organs, a federal health agency concluded in a report released yesterday.
The National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that there is "some concern" that babies, fetuses, and children are in danger because bisphenol A, or BPA, harms animals at low levels found in nearly all human bodies.
An ingredient of polycarbonate plastic, BPA is one of the most widely used synthetic chemicals in industry today.
It can seep from plastic beverage containers such as baby bottles, as well as liners in cans containing food and infant formula.
The federal institute is the first government agency in the United States to conclude that low levels of BPA could be harming humans.
Its findings will be used to help regulators at federal and state environmental agencies develop policies governing its use.
The draft report followed an 18-month review that was fraught with allegations of bias, heated disputes among scientists, and the firing of a consulting company with financial ties to industry.
Some scientists suspect that exposure early in life disrupts hormones and alters genes, programming a fetus or child for breast or prostate cancer, premature female puberty, attention deficit disorders, and other reproductive or neurological disorders.
In its new report, the National Toxicology Program, which reviewed about 500 laboratory animal experiments, concluded that there is "some concern" that fetuses, babies, and children are at risk from BPA.
It rated as "negligible" the concern for adults.
When animal fetuses or newborns are exposed, BPA "can cause changes in behavior and the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland, and the age at which females attain puberty," the agency's draft report says.
"These studies only provide limited evidence for adverse effects on development, and more research is needed to better understand their implications for human health," it says. "However, because these effects in animals occur at bisphenol A-exposure levels similar to those experienced by humans, the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed."
Plastics industry representatives stressed that the agency found "no serious or high-level concerns."
They call the lab animal experiments inconclusive and flawed.
Steve Hentges, representing the American Chemistry Council's plastics group, said the findings "provide reassurance that consumers can continue to use products made from bisphenol A."