Effort to Ban BPA in California Fails
San Francisco Chronicle, September 16, 2009
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a substance used in hard, clear and nearly
unbreakable plastic called polycarbonate and in the epoxy resin
coatings that line canned food.
If you’re a parent, then you probably know that powdered infant formula
cans are lined with BPA and that some baby bottles and sippy cups
contain it. The chemical’s potential to disrupt the hormonal system has
made its use in baby food products controversial, and in recent years
the chemical has been a hot topic in the news.
Studies and tests have shown that BPA can leach into the contents of
a container, especially plastic ones that are used in a microwave oven
or cleaned in a dishwasher. But leaching also occurs at cold
temperatures. A May 2009 study by the Harvard School of Public Health
found that subjects who drank liquids from plastic bottles containing
BPA had a 69 percent increase in the BPA in their urine.
The actual risks of BPA are still a matter of debate but over the
past decade a growing body of scientific studies has linked the
chemical to breast and prostrate cancer, infertility, obesity, and
neurological and behavioral changes, including autism and
Most recently, a September 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that higher levels of urinary BPA is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities.
Canada, Minnesota, Connecticut, and some cities and counties have
banned the substance. Wal-Mart and CVS removed BPA products aimed at
young children from their shelves. The six biggest baby bottle
manufacturers in the United States agreed not to use the chemical.
(Note: A recent Canadian study found that many bottles claiming to be
BPA free aren’t.)
That said, safety agencies around the world in countries ranging
from Japan to Switzerland have declared trace amounts of BPA safe. Last
year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided there was not
enough data to support a ban on the use of BPA in food packaging, in
particular, baby bottles. However, the government organization is
re-reviewing the issue and should announce a decision by November 30 on
whether to change its stance.
California State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) was convinced
by the research indicating that BPA is a harmful substance, and in
February she introduced a bill (SB 797) to ban it from feeding products
designed for children under 3 years old, starting in 2011. The bill
passed the Senate in June. It was favored by the Assembly 35-32, but
last week it did not garner the 41 votes necessary to clear the
Assembly. The bill will be reconsidered in 2010.
“The science on BPA clearly shows cause for alarm,” says Sen.
Pavley. “Every child from every community in our state deserves access
to safe, affordable products. I don’t understand how some lawmakers are
willing to ignore science and risk the health of California children.”
Why did the bill lose?
Members of the Assembly who voted no on the bill point to California’s Green Chemistry Initiative,
a bipartisan agreement intended to create a process to phase out
chemicals known to cause harm. They believe the BPA ban tried to
short-circuit the process that legislators agreed to follow.
“I would like to see the process that we all agreed upon to play out,” Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries
(R-Riverside) says. “Simply because another country says it doesn’t
like this chemical doesn’t mean we should feel obligated to ban it too.
We created the Green Chemistry initiative to take politics out of this
and to really look at the science. If there is a need for further
scientific review of BPA in California, the open and transparent
process under the initiative will provide what is needed to protect the
health of all Californians.”
Assemblywoman Diane Harkey
(R-Dana Point) adds, “I joined a bipartisan effort to oppose this
redundant regulation on children’s toys that are made with Bisphenol A,
which is scientifically ruled safe by the FDA.”
Ansje Miller, policy director for the Center for Environmental Health
in Oakland, is outraged by these claims. Miller says members of the
Assembly who voted no are using the Green Chemistry Initiative as an
excuse. The bill “mandated that the Green Chemistry Initiative review
BPA and take the appropriate regulatory action on it,” she says.
Supporters of the BPA ban, such as Miller, believe what really
happened is that the chemical and pharmaceutical industry mounted a
ruthless lobbying campaign to persude members of the Assembly to vote
no. Some Assembly members were told food production plants in their
districts like General Mills would close even though those plants do
not produce any baby food or baby products, according to Sen. Pavley.
Assembly members were also told formula would be pulled from shelves
immediately even though a ban on BPA would not have gone into effect
until 2011. (Jeffries says he never heard any of this.)
“The chemical industry successfully used misinformation and fear
tactics to kill my bill,” Sen. Pavley says. “Unfortunately, some
California lawmakers were unable to see through a web of lies fueled by
greed and therefore put our children in harm’s way.”
In May, chemical and food industry lobbyists called an emergency
brainstorming session to devise an attack plan to kill SB 797 and
similar bills pending around the country.
Meeting behind doors at the exclusive Cosmos Club in Washington
D.C., representatives from Coca-cola, Alcoa, Del Monte, Crown, the
American Chemistry Council, the North American Metal Packaging
Alliance, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association discussed a public
relations effort to prolong the life of BPA.
A copy of the meeting minutes leaked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
revealed that the attendees discussed tactics to kill BPA legislation
in California. The industry executives estimated that it would cost
$500,000 to craft a message for a PR campaign. “Their ‘holy grail’
spokesperson would be a ‘pregnant young mother who would be willing to
speak around the country about the benefits of BPA,'” the notes read.
But forget about all the politics. “We’re talking about children,” says
Fremont dad Joe Racklin, who first found out about BPA after his first
child was born eight months ago. He was shocked when he learned the
bottles he and his wife were using contained a chemical that scientists
had proven to be harmful. “I can’t believe the bill didn’t pass. It’s
frustrating because the only reason it was defeated is probably because
the lobbyists for the chemical companies are so powerful. You read
these studies and they’re saying equivocally that BPA is dangerous.
It’s not clear why BPA is even necessary in baby bottles because some
bottles are advertised as being BPA free. Why can’t all products be BPA