January 30, 2010

Let’s try this again: Washington state Senate passes a bill limiting the use of BPA

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Mothers take great care to provide the best for their children, choosing nutritious formula and food for their young. So why is a chemical that may hinder a child’s development allowed in baby bottles and sippy cups?

That was the sentiment behind a 36-9 vote in the Washington state SenatJennifere today for a bill (SB 6248) to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from food and drink containers for young children. Similar legislation passed the House earlier this week 95-1, but that bill (HB 1180) went further by also banning the chemical in bottles containing sports drinks such as Gatorade.

BPA is widely used in shatterproof plastic containers for food and drinks, as well as a plastic lining in cans for food and soda. Studies have shown that when these containers become hot, whether through microwaving or by pouring hot liquid into them, BPA can seep into the food or drink. This is also occurs when the plastics get scratched over time.

Federal safety regulators have expressed concern about the harmful effects the chemical could have on fetuses and young children’s brains, reproductive systems, pituitary glands, and behavior. The chemical has also been linked to a variety of cancers, diabetes, and obesity.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration “believes there are great causes for concern, especially among the youngest,” said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, the primary sponsor of the House legislation.

Similar legislation advanced in Wisconsin this week as well, passing the Wisconsin Senate unanimously. Both Washington and Wisconsin’s bills in their current form would ban BPA in bottles and cups for children age 3 and under.

The FDA has floundered in its stance on BPA in the last two years and as a result some state legislatures, including Washington’s, balked at passing legislation to limit it.

According to an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in the past “the FDA allowed chemical company lobbyists to write entire sections of its ruling…” on BPA.

Last year the federal agency said it wanted to wait for further research before making a conclusion on the harmfulness of BPA to consumers. With that federal ambivalence as a backdrop, a parade of industry lobbyists in Olympia lined up to testify against the legislation. Opponents included the American Chemistry Council and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

That opposition helped stop the legislation in the Senate in 2009, although it passed the House on a 76-21 vote.

Industry lobbyists say science is not yet certain enough to support banning BPA in consumer products. They also oppose state-by-state legislation on the grounds it would be burdensome to national retailers.

Fast forward to this year.

Now the Food and Drug Administration says it has “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.”

In Olympia, any action to restrict BPA this year hinges on reconciling the House- and Senate-passed bills. Both bills are supported by Washington Toxics Coalition, Washington Environmental Council, and the Washington State Nurses Association.

To date, Connecticut, Minnesota, and some counties in New York have banned BPA. Canada is the only country to have banned the chemical.

— Jennifer Privette

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