WASHINGTON — The scientific jury is still out on whether industrial chemicals known as endocrine disrupters are harmful to people, but compelling evidence that wildlife has been harmed necessitates more research, according to an Environmental Protection Agency study.
The study, the agency's first substantial statement on the issue, is a ``big help'' for the chemical and plastics industries because it will make it easier to resist calls for immediate regulation and bans, said Jerome Heckman, general counsel for the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system, which regulates growth and reproduction. Most chemicals that are suspected are not used by the plastics industry, but SPI officials said some — including bisphenol A and alkylphenols — are used.
EPA spokeswoman Denise Kearns said industry should not declare victory: ``We haven't found a smoking gun, but we are still concerned. There are some genuine issues that need to be addressed.''
The study did not focus on plastics, she said.
The plastics industry takes the threat seriously because ``the theory is plausible,'' even if links with health effects in people have not been established, said SPI spokesman Jack LaCovey.
The federal study, released March 13, comes after the Illinois EPA reached a conclusion similar to the U.S. study in a preliminary assessment released last month. A more complete assessment by the National Academy of Sciences is expected later this year, as is the paperback version of the book Our Stolen Future, by scientist Theo Colborn, which generated public interest last year.
LaCovey said the topic has not ``gained traction'' to become a major legislative, regulatory or consumer issue. Congress last year required the EPA to develop a screening program to identify endocrine disrupters and the risk they pose to human health by 2000.
The U.S. EPA report listed some alkylphenols but did not list bisphenol A, which is used in products such as polycarbonate baby bottles and water bottles and can enamels. The industry has a reasonable amount of data that suggests BPA exposure is not a concern in plastics because the products are inert, according to Heckman.
The state report listed BPA and styrene as probable disrupters.