BPA in California’s Babies – What’s the Hold Up?

Cross-posted from CHANGE’s  blog series: “Independence from Toxic Chemicals”.

This week, the California legislature plans to wrap up its legislative session and make many tough decisions about the services, priorities, and the budget of our state. Amongst the many tough decisions, sending a bill to protect infants and toddlers from exposure to a toxic chemical — a measure already passed by both the houses but pending one procedural vote in the Senate — should NOT be included as a tough decision. SB 797 (Pavley) would prohibit the synthetic estrogen, bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles, sippy cups, food and formula containers meant for children 3 and younger.


What is BPA? Bisphenol-A (BPA) was discovered to be a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. Today it’s widely used as a core ingredient in polycarbonate plastics, and epoxy resins, including those commonly found in baby bottles and used to line food cans. Research by the Centers for Disease Control has found that 93% of Americans tested have BPA in their bodies, and that children have higher levels than adults. Further research has also uncovered a relationship between household income and BPA exposure, showing that people with the highest BPA exposure were from the lowest income groups.   According to the National Institutes of Health, the main way people are exposed to BPA is from the chemical leaching from containers into food and drink.

Why regulate BPA? The evidence of BPA’s harm to human health is convincing, and continues to grow — especially when it comes BPA exposure during the critical development stages in the first few years. Today, children face alarming health challenges – many of which have been linked to a growing and convincing body of scientific evidence linked to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA. A new study that shows girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever, autism spectrum disorders are on the rise and childhood obesity has become a national epidemic. BPA has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and obesity.

Regulatory action in North America started with Canada’s May 2008 elimination of BPA in baby bottles. Since then, seven states have restricted the use of this chemical in children’s feeding containers — Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington. Lawmakers from these states managed to pass the bill, as a critical children’s health issue by near unanimous consent, and the Governor signed, completely independent of party affiliation.

What’s the hold up in California? Several factors are involved in the California’s delay in passing BPA regulating legislation, which include intense lobbying from industry groups, waiting for initial action from California’s Green Chemistry Initiative (which includes determination of safer chemicals and products, and accompanying regulation), and some gains on the national fronts to finally recognize BPA as a hazardous chemical that should be avoided, particularly for children.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the chemical lobbying industry has spent more than $5 million dollars lobbying against its passage, and even used “fear tactics” to scare the public into opposing efforts to eliminate BPA.

With the adoption of several laws to kickstart California’s Green Chemistry Initiative in 2008 (AB 1879 Feurer, SB 509 Simitian), our state is leading the way to creating a safer system for regulating chemicals. During this critical time of implementing these laws, it’s become very clear that the draft regulations still fall very short of the legislation passed. As health advocates, we must keep pushing for provisions that truly protect human health and the environment, while promoting economic development, and the many businesses that are leading the way in creating chemicals and products that are benign by design.

Anticipating the implementation of the Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), SB 797 would only take effect in the absence of any regulatory action taken through the GCI.  When the program is up and running, any determination made by the Department of Toxic Substances Control on BPA will supersede this bill.

SB 797 makes the case that California needs to prioritize and act upon those chemicals whose evidence of harm is clear.

Within the past year, the movement to eliminate BPA has gained momentum on the national scene. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reversed a previous determination about BPA, and advised that children’s exposure to it be avoided. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has placed it on a list of chemicals that need more rigorous regulation, and California is considering adding BPA to its official list of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive harm (Proposition 65, read more).

Even with these meaningful developments on the national and state front, neither the federal government nor California has taken serious action to limit children’s exposure to this chemical.

Measures like SB 797 are paving the way for future ways of eliminating BPA from all food and drink packaging. With the example of seven other states who have recognized this chemical as an immediate threat to children’s health and taken action, the support for the national movement to eliminate BPA may actually hinge on California’s decision.

This week, lawmakers can restore California’s leadership in protecting children – our most vulnerable — by passing SB 797 and sending it to the governor for his signature. Find your CA Senator and call right now to ask for their support.

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