Making a compelling case against BPA

My career as a legislator has been publicly defined by two major pieces of environmental legislation: AB 32 and AB 1493, both of which address global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Less well known are bills I’ve carried to safeguard the health of Californians. These, too, are part of my effort to help preserve a safe, clean environment for all of us, and particularly for children. This year, I’m carrying SB 797, which would ban detectable levels of the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in food and beverage containers designed for children 3 years and younger. These include formula cans, baby bottles and sippy cups.

I support the “green chemistry” initiative passed by the Legislature last year, which requires the Department of Toxic Substances Control to look comprehensively at potential hazards from chemicals in consumer products, and to find safer alternatives. But it will likely be years before the new green chemistry regulations are in place.

In the meantime, we can’t use their eventual arrival as an excuse not to take action now when it comes to chemicals like BPA, where the science clearly demonstrates cause for alarm. The case for action is particularly compelling given BPA’s potential danger to one of our most vulnerable populations – toddlers and infants.

Originally created as an artificial estrogen for women in the 1930s, BPA is now widely used in shatter-resistant plastic bottles and the linings of cans. It’s an endocrine disruptor that acts like a hormone, and its repeated ingestion is the equivalent of giving low-level doses of birth control pills to babies on a daily basis. The chemical leaches from food and beverage containers into food and drink.

Well over 100 independent academic and government peer-reviewed studies have linked BPA to a host of problems, including brain and developmental damage, breast and prostrate cancer, early puberty, obesity, infertility, miscarriage and hyperactivity. Young children and babies are particularly vulnerable because their body systems are still developing.

Still, the chemical industry remains in denial. It has employed more than a dozen lobbyists to kill my bill.  Lobbyists for popular formula brands are roaming the halls of the Capitol, telling my colleagues that alternative products aren’t available, and a ban on BPA could cause a formula shortage. Yet at the same time, these companies are marketing a variety of formula and food containers to parents as “BPA free.”

Chemical and plastics industry representatives frequently note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed BPA safe at current levels. What they fail to mention is that the FDA report was based entirely on studies funded by the chemical industry.

More recently, the FDA’s own science board, a group of outside experts, found major flaws in the agency’s decision to declare the chemical safe. Studies excluded from the FDA’s consideration suggest BPA could pose harm to children at levels 10 times lower than what the agency allows.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that an international consortium of industry, academic and government scientists has rejected the FDA’s finding as incomplete and unreliable.

The paper quoted Laura Vandenberg, a developmental biologist at Tufts University, as saying: “It is becoming undeniable that BPA is dangerous. The FDA’s standard for safety is reasonable certainty. It is no longer reasonable to say that BPA is safe.”

A groundswell of outrage from consumers has led to proposals in 20 other states to restrict use of BPA. The Connecticut House of Representatives last week passed a bill similar to mine. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced legislation that would ban the use of BPA in all food and beverage containers, not just those designed for young children.

The government of Canada, meanwhile, is in the process of banning BPA in baby bottles and other products used by children.
Given the mounting evidence, and the questions about the FDA’s decision, why wouldn’t California err on the side of protecting its most vulnerable citizens? California ordinarily takes the lead on environmental and health issues, but this time other states and the federal government may act first. Last year, a bill similar to mine made it one step short of the governor’s desk before falling short of votes on the Assembly floor.  The scientific case against BPA has strengthened in the ensuing year, but the bill still faces daunting odds in the face of ferocious lobbying. Last week, SB 797  squeaked out of Senate Health Committee with the bare minimum of six votes.

I’m calling on my colleagues to make decisions based on evidence. Support SB 797 to get BPA out of our children’s food and drink.

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