The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that baby bottles and children’s drinking cups could no longer contain bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-mimicking industrial chemical used in some plastic bottles and food packaging.
Manufacturers have already stopped using the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, and the F.D.A. said that its decision was a response to a request by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association, that rules allowing BPA in those products be phased out, in part to boost consumer confidence.
But the new prohibition does not apply more broadly to the use of BPA in other containers, said an F.D.A. spokesman, Steven Immergut. He said the decision did not amount to a reversal of the agency’s position on the chemical. The F.D.A. declared BPA safe in 2008, but began expressing concerns about possible health risks in 2010.
Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the agency, said the decision simply codified what the industry was already doing based on the preference of consumers and did not reflect concerns about the safety of BPA in baby bottles or toddler’s cups.
The decision “solidifies legally that the use will not happen again in the future” in baby bottles and cups for toddlers, he said. He added that the agency “has been looking hard at BPA for a long time, and based on all the evidence, we continue to support its safe use in other materials.”
BPA has been used since the 1960s to make hard plastic bottles, cups for toddlers and the linings of food and beverage cans, including those that hold infant formula and soda. Until recently, it was used in baby bottles, but major manufacturers are now making bottles without it. Plastic items containing BPA are generally marked with a 7 on the bottom for recycling purposes.
The chemical can leach into food, and a study of over 2,000 people found that more than 90 percent of them had BPA in their urine. Traces have also been found in breast milk, the blood of pregnant women and umbilical cord blood.
Reports of potentially negative health effects have made BPA notorious, especially among parents, and led to widespread shunning of products thought to contain the chemical. Canada, Chicago and Suffolk County, N.Y., have banned BPA from children’s products. In 2010, the F.D.A. said that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.”
The American Chemistry Council said in a statement that it had asked the F.D.A. to take action because of confusion, stirred by state legislative and regulatory actions, about whether baby bottles and cups for toddlers contain BPA. It said that manufacturers announced years ago that they had stopped using the chemical in those items.
Public health advocates praised the agency’s decision, but said the chemical still presented a health risk.
“The F.D.A. is slowly making progress on this issue, but they are doing the bare minimum here,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families. “They are instituting a ban that is already in effect voluntarily.”
Some advocates also pointed out that the decision did not include BPA used in containers of baby formula. Dennis M. Keefe, director of the office of food additive safety at the F.D.A., said that a decision on the chemical’s use in such products was under review.