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U.S. regulators pressed to speed up BPA decision

By JoAnne Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should immediately ban the use of the chemical bisphenol A in food and beverage containers, a U.S. environmental health advocacy group urged on Thursday.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group renewed a call for regulators to curb the use of bisphenol A, or BPA, citing a new study suggesting the widely used chemical poses a health risk.

The FDA is considering whether any action needs to be taken. Asked about the group's letter, an FDA spokesperson said that an announcement on BPA is forthcoming.

Bisphenol A has been used for decades to harden plastics and turns up in many food and beverage containers including some baby bottles, the coating of food cans and some medical devices. It appears to mimic the hormone estrogen in the body.

People consume BPA when it leaches from plastic into baby formula, water or food in a container.

"How much more does the FDA need to know to be convinced it must protect the national food supply from further contamination?," Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook said in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

"We urge you to act now to prohibit the use of BPA in food and food containers," Cook wrote.

On Tuesday, British scientists reported a new analysis had confirmed earlier work that suggests people with high BPA levels were more likely to have heart disease and diabetes than those with lower BPA levels.

Critics of BPA say more than 150 scientific studies involving laboratory rodents have shown BPA to be harmful at even low levels. But some experts are not convinced.

The industry group American Chemistry Council said such studies are limited in what they can tell about the potential impact of the chemical on health.

"Regulatory bodies from around the world have recently completed scientific evaluations and found BPA safe in food-contact products, including canned foods and beverages," spokesman Steven Hentges said in response to the newest study.

U.S. government toxicologists at the National Institutes of Health concluded in 2008 that BPA may pose risks for harmful effects on development of the prostate and brain and for behavioral changes in fetuses, infants and children.

Canada's government plans to outlaw plastic baby bottles made with BPA. A group of British scientists and health groups are calling for similar action.

Although the FDA has not yet taken action on the chemical, some U.S. manufacturers have voluntarily begun phasing out its use.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, began pulling baby bottles and other products made with BPA from its stores in Canada and United States nearly two years ago.

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