By MATTHEW PERRONEWASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Sunoco has begun restricting sales of a controversial chemical used in baby bottles and food containers that some researchers believe can harm infants. The move by the gas and chemical giant makes Sunoco the first manufacturer to acknowledge safety concerns about bisphenol-A, or BPA, which recently led retailers like Wal-Mart to pull thousands of baby and water bottles off store shelves. Environmental groups want to ban BPA in products for infants because of concerns that it can interfere with biological functions needed for growth. But government scientists have issued conflicting opinions about the chemical's risks. In light of that uncertainty, Sunoco said in a letter Thursday it has begun requiring customers to guarantee that its BPA will not be used in food and water containers for children under 3. "We will no longer sell BPA to customers who cannot make this promise," Thomas Golembeski, head of public relations, wrote in a letter to two investors. The company's policy, which took effect last November, was prompted by concerns from local investors, including an order of Franciscan nuns.
"We thought this was a really bold step, especially for a company that's a member of the American Chemistry Council," said Tom McCaney, associate director for corporate responsibility at the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, a group of about 600 nuns. The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, has reiterated that BPA is among the most-tested chemicals ever produced and is safe for adults and infants. Philadelphia-based Sunoco is a relatively small player in the market for BPA, which is used to make everything from CDs to pipes to glasses frames. Larger producers include the Dow Chemical Co., Bayer and Hexion Specialty Chemicals. Those companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Last year U.S. production of BPA reached an estimated 950,000 metric tons, according to the Chemical Marketers Associates. That number was down 5 percent from the prior year, as chemical makers were hammered by soaring energy prices and lower consumer spending. Last week six of the nation's baby bottle makers, including Gerber and Playtex Products, said they will stop using BPA, at the request of attorneys generals in several states.
Major U.S. retailers, including Toys 'R' Us Inc. and Wal-Mart, have removed products containing the chemical from their stores. And last fall Canada banned BPA from all baby bottles. About 90 percent of Americans have traces of bisphenol in their urine. Among hundreds of other applications, the plastic-hardening chemical is used to seal cans and often leaches into canned food. But while the kidneys of older children and adults quickly eliminate the chemical from their bodies, newborns and infants may retain it for much longer. Consumer advocates want restrictions on BPA because it mimics the effects of the hormone estrogen, potentially interfering with young, growing bodies. They point to dozens of studies in animals showing low doses of the chemical led to increases in breast, prostate and uterine tumors. However, most of those studies relied on a small number of animals, and the results have not been confirmed in humans. The FDA concluded last year that there is no harm from the low doses of BPA that babies, children and most adults get by eating foods from containers made with BPA.
But the agency's own outside advisers faulted that report for relying on a small number of industry-sponsored studies and creating "a false sense of security." The advisers said more studies of the chemical are needed, though it will likely take years to gather more conclusive evidence. _____ AP Business Writer Ernest Scheyder contributed to this story from New York