With Heavy Industry Lobbying and the Absence of Two Senators, SB 797 Falls Two Votes Short

Just after midnight on September 1, the California Senate failed to pass a bill to eliminate Bisphenol-A (BPA) from food and drink containers for children ages 3 and younger. Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) carried the legislation with advocate sponsors Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Breast Cancer Fund, and Environmental Working Group.

While the bill had passed both an Assembly and Senate floor vote over the past year-and-half, heavy lobbying from industry groups and two supporting Senators being absent for serious health reasons, led to this children’s health measure failing by just two votes.

The leadership and members of the Senate had an opportunity to advance SB 797 (The Toxics-Free Toddlers and Infants Act) to the Governor’s desk by casting “courtesy votes” based on the medical absence of the two Senators. Shockingly, these votes were not granted by their colleagues.

A diverse coalition of health professionals, scientists, parents, and reproductive health and justice advocates supported this measure because it would have protected children from exposure to BPA, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, obesity, neurological and behavioral changes, autism and hyperactivity.

BPA has already been banned from baby bottles and children’s sippy cups in Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin, Vermont and New York. Connecticut and Vermont limit the use of BPA in baby-food and infant-formula packaging. All states passed their BPA measure with near-unanimous consent and have had the bills signed by both Democrat and Republican governors.

“It is a sad day when chemical industry lobbyists matter more than protecting Californians from exposure to dangerous chemicals,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of PSR-LA.

According the SF Chronicle, approximately $5 million was spent on a lobbying effort to prevent passage of SB 797. Retailers including CVS, Kmart, Safeway, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart have announced they will stop selling BPA-containing baby bottles, and many infant formula manufactures advertise their products as BPA-free. Even so, lack of access to information about BPA, and low availability of BPA-free products in smaller corner stores means that many low-income women with limited mobility may not have access to safe products for their family.

As a public health organization working on behalf of the bill, PSR-LA highlighted the more than 200 scientific studies that show BPA exposure, particularly during infancy, is associated with a wide range of adverse health effects in later life. According to the National Institutes of Health, a main route of human exposure is through the leaching of BPA from food and beverage containers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that BPA is found in 93% of Americans.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would ban BPA in infant food packaging, in addition to other food and beverage containers, and the national movement for eliminating this toxic chemical has been growing. With seven other states and several countries taking leadership on protecting children, California advocates and families are ready to continue the struggle to prioritize public health in our state, while growing a strong and healthy economy for all communities.

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Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA) informs the medical community and policymakers about toxic threats, and strengthens local community organizations to engage in meaningful public health and environmental health advocacy.