WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday it will investigate the impact of the chemical Bisphenol-A on the U.S. water supply and other parts of the environment.
Federal regulators have been ramping up their scrutiny of the controversial plastic-hardener at the behest of scientists and activists who say it can interfere with infant growth and development.
The EPA said in a statement it will begin measuring levels of BPA in drinking and ground water. More than 1 million pounds of BPA are released into the environment each year, according to the agency.
The EPA will also "look for ways to reduce unnecessary exposures, including assessing substitutes."
BPA is found in canned food linings, water bottles, CDs and hundreds of other household items.
In January the Food and Drug Administration changed its position on the chemical's safety, voicing "some concern" about its effects on children and infants. The agency previously concluded in 2008 that the trace amounts of the chemical that leach out of food containers are safe.
"We share FDA's concern about the potential health impacts from BPA," said Steve Owens, an assistant administrator with EPA.
The EPA's action did not come without some prodding. Earlier this month Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York urged the EPA to develop an action plan for BPA. He noted that BPA was left off a list of four chemicals subject to tighter regulation, despite EPA director Lisa Jackson publicly voicing concern about the chemical.
The federal government has been grappling with the safety of BPA for almost three years.
Dozens of animal studies have linked the chemical to abnormal growths and cancerous tumors, but those results have never been confirmed in humans.
The FDA and has set aside $30 million to study BPA's safety over the next 18 to 24 months.
While the FDA gathers more information, consumer safety advocates have urged the EPA to push ahead with tighter regulation of the chemical.
The EPA has authority to restrict the use of chemicals that pose risks to the environment and public health. The FDA regulates ingredients and packaging of processed foods and drugs.
The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, has argued that BPA is safe and has been used widely since the 1950s.
"It is important to recognize that EPA is not proposing any regulatory action regarding human health," the group said in a statement late Monday.
The council represents BPA producers including Dow Chemical Co., Bayer AG and Hexion Specialty Chemicals.