A new study released Tuesday linked a controversial chemical widely used in baby bottles and plastic food containers to diabetes, heart disease and liver abnormalities in adults.
The report published in the September 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reviewed the effect on adults of the chemical known as bisphenol A (BPA).
It found that adults with the highest concentrations of BPA in their urine had nearly triple the odds of cardiovascular disease, compared with those with the least amounts of the compound in their systems.
Of 1,455 adults studied, those with the highest BPA levels had more than double the odds of having diabetes, the report found.
"Higher urinary concentrations of BPA were associated with an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver-enzyme abnormalities," the authors wrote.
The release of the report coincided Tuesday with a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing in Washington into the safety of bisphenol A, which the FDA has so far deemed to be safe in a preliminary report issued in August.
"A margin of safety exists that is adequate to protect consumers, including infants and children, at the current levels of exposure," Laura Tarantino, senior scientist at FDA, told the hearing.
The FDA's August report triggered an outcry from the scientific community and consumer protection groups.
They accused the agency of ignoring the results of studies done on animals showing that small doses of BPA could provoke changes during development in the brain, prostate glands and at puberty for females.
A group of toxicologists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also published their concerns about the levels of the chemical found in many food containers, plastic bottles and dental fillings in a study earlier this month.
According to the NIH findings, the chemical could have dangerous effects on the development of the brain and the prostate gland in fetuses and newborn babies.
BPA is said to interfere with estrogen, the hormone which plays a key role in fetal and childhood development.
The authors of Tuesday's study said it was the first to track the prevalence in the human body of BPA, which authorities in Canada plan to outlaw as a health risk and major environmental contaminant.
The compound is found in detectable levels in more than 90 percent of Americans, "primarily through food, but also through drinking water, dental sealants, dermal exposure, and inhalation of household dusts," researchers said.
More than two million metric tonnes of BPA were produced worldwide in 2003, and demand for the compound has increased by between six and 10 percent each year since then, the authors said.
Consumer groups are pushing for the FDA to review its initial conclusions, which they say have been based on industry-funded research.
Elizabeth Hitchcock of the US Public Interest Research Group said she hoped the FDA would take into account the evidence "about the consequences of bisphenol A particularly on children's health" in making its decision.
But the industry group American Chemistry Council said more follow up studies were needed.
"Overall, due to inherent limitations in study design, this new study cannot support a conclusion that bisphenol A causes any disease," said Steven Hentges from the council.
"The weight of scientific evidence continues to support the conclusion of governments worldwide that bisphenol A is not a significant health concern at the trace levels present in some consumer products."