When it comes to the risk posed by bisphenol-A (BPA), the chemical used to make hardened plastic containers such as baby bottles, liners for canned goods, and other plastic items, government officials can't seem to agree.

In September, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, released a report concluding that there is "some concern" that exposure to BPA can adversely affect development of the prostate gland and brain, and may cause behavioral effects in fetuses and children.

"There remains considerable uncertainty whether the changes seen in the animal studies are directly applicable to humans, and whether they would result in clear adverse health effects," stated NTP Associate Director John Bucher. "But we have concluded that the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed."

The scarce data leaves consumers in the lurch, conceded Michael Shelby, Director of the NTP's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction. "Unfortunately it is very difficult to offer advice on how the public should respond to this information," Dr. Shelby stated. "More research is clearly needed ...If parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA."

But this summer, the Food and Drug Administration issued findings of its own, and appeared to land on the other side of the fence. The FDA issued a "Draft Assessment" of the use of BPA in food-related products in which it said its data did not support a need to upgrade safety standards: "FDA has concluded that an adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses."

Nonetheless, the FDA pledged to consider the NTP's recent conclusions, and agreed with the call for further research. The diverging opinions at the federal level may invite state action; The New York Times noted that some states are considering bills to restrict the use of BPA in children's products.

Read about the NTP's report and read more about the issue at niehs.nih.gov.

View the FDA's draft report at fda.gov.