Katharine Bond doesn’t buy baby bottles, sippy cups or other items that contain a controversial chemical because of concerns that it could harm her baby.

The federal government says bisphenol A is safe in low doses, but Bond wants to limit her daughter’s exposure to it. So do Washington lawmakers.

They’re backing a House bill to ban the chemical, known as BPA, in food or drink containers for children age 3 and younger, including plastic baby bottles and infant formula.

“Even small amounts of BPA can be very toxic to babies and young children,” said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, primary sponsor of House Bill 1180.

A hearing is scheduled Wednesday in the House Environmental Health Committee. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, is sponsoring a similar measure in the Senate.

The bills will face stiff opposition from the chemical and plastics industry, which maintains that BPA, which is used for hardening plastics, is safe. The industry has helped defeat proposals in other states.

“It’s one of the best-tested chemicals,” said Steve Hentges, executive director of the American Chemistry Council’s BPA panel. “It’s been evaluated by many government agencies in the world.”

BPA is a key ingredient in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics used in numerous products, including CDs, DVDs, sports bottles and reuseable food and drink containers. BPA is also an ingredient in epoxy resins used to line metal cans.

The FDA says trace amounts of the chemical that leach out of food containers or drink bottles aren’t dangerous. But an independent panel of scientific advisers, asked by the FDA to review its assessment, has challenged that conclusion as flawed.

Canada has banned the sale of BPA in plastic baby bottles.

“The issue of children’s health always takes precedence,” said Keiser. “I’m not confident with the FDA’s assessment and I always think it’s better to be safe.”

Hentges said many government agencies in the world have evaluated BPA, and “all of them support the conclusion that bisphenol A is not a significant risk to human health.”

But some scientists are concerned that BPA could be harmful, since it mimics some of the effects of estrogen, a powerful hormone.

Even in very low doses, BPA can lead to a variety of health effects, said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, assistant professor in pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“Low doses have been associated with increased proliferation of uterine, breast, and prostate tumor cells,” she said.

Infants are more vulnerable, she said, because their neural and reproductive systems are still developing. She recommends that pregnant women, babies and young infants avoid exposure.

About 93 percent of Americans have traces of bisphenol in their urine, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 6 million pounds of bisphenol are produced in the U.S. each year.

The proposed ban would begin July 1, 2010. It prohibits BPA in food and drink containers made for children 3 and under, including sippy cups, baby bottles and cans of liquid infant formula. It also bans it in reusable drink bottles, such as popular Nalgene bottles.

The measure directs the Department of Ecology to find alternatives to bisphenol A by July 2012 for food and drink containers that aren’t already banned.

“BPA is clearly a chemical that has fallen through the cracks,” said Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, campaign director for the Washington Toxics Coalition, an environmental group pushing for the bill. “With safe alternatives already available, it has no business in baby containers or bottles.”

Bond, the Seattle mother, continues to use containers that contain BPA, but not for her daughter, Samantha.

“If we can limit her exposure when she’s young, hopefully she can be healthier,” Bond said.

Bond isn’t sure about an outright ban, because she’s worried whether it would drive up overall costs of products. “While it’s important to us, we’re incredibly lucky to be able to afford them,” she said.

On the Net:

Washington Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov
Washington Toxics Coalition: http://www.watoxics.org/
American Chemistry Council: http://www.americanchemistry.com/