For years the Food and Drug Administration has insisted that Bisphenol-A, or BPA, a chemical found in many everyday products made of hard plastic, is safe. But now the agency in doubling back.
In a long-anticipated report released Friday, FDA officials said they now have "some concerns" about BPA and its possible health effects, particularly on children.
The "FDA is supporting reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA including actions by industry and recommendations to consumers on food preparation," the report said.
However, the agency didn't go so far as to ban products that contain BPA, including some kinds of infant formula. Plastic containers that contain BPA are usually marked with the number 7 on the bottom.
"At this time, FDA is not recommending that families change the use of infant formula or foods, as the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk of BPA exposure," it said.
The FDA also says it will launch a $30 million study of BPA to measure the health effects. But consumer groups say it's not enough.
"The government needs to take action," Consumer's Union senior scientist Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumer's Union. "There is enough science here to show that this is a potentially hazardous compound and it shouldn't be in products that could lead to exposure to children."
Hansen said dozens of scientific studies have linked BPA to a variety of health risks including reproduction problems, diabetes and heart disease.
Parents' advocacy groups have long been pushing for the federal government to ban BPA, especially in children's products. At this point, most baby bottles are made without BPA but the chemical is still found in plastic products like water bottles and in the lining of cans of food.
The FDA says in order to decrease exposure to BPA, consumers should avoid filling BPA contaminated bottles with hot liquid and discard old, worn out plastic bottles because the chemical can seep through any scratches.
The FDA is sending dangerous mixed messages to the public about BPA, Hansen said.
"If they are not willing to take it off the market then they can't say it's a hazard," he said.
A major plastics trade group, the American Chemistry Council, issued a statement saying BPA is safe and consumers should not alter their behavior as a result of the new FDA warning.
Meanwhile, the FDA says it will conclude its new study of BPA sometime in the next 18-24 months. And the agency is urging parents to go to hhs.gov for more information about BPA and tips to avoid exposure.