California infants and children are a bit safer today; chemical industry taking desperate backsteps
Thanks to the hard work of advocates across the state, working hand-in-hand with legislators and community leaders, Calif. Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1319, to protect infants and toddlers from BPA (bisphenol-A), an endocrine-disrupting chemical. This measure limits BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups made or sold after July 1, 2013.
The legislation was sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA), Black Women for Wellness, Environmental Working Group, and Consumers Union, and authored by State Assembly member Betsy Butler (D-Marina Del Ray) and State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).
The signing of this bill into law was largely the result of a great partnership between environmental and reproductive health and justice groups addressing the lack of affordable and safe products in low income communities. “As physicians and health advocates we felt it was important to talk about how toxics in consumer products especially those for children are often not available in all communities,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. Women from Los Angeles and many other communities made multiple trips to Sacramento to meet with their legislators and organized meetings within their own communities. These groups also made coordinated calls to the Capitol during advocacy workshops such as the September 28th conference, “Building Movement & Gathering Forces at the Intersections of Environmental Health and Reproductive Justice” in South LA.
BPA (bisphenol-A) is a synthetic compound found in many products we use every day. It contaminates children’s food and drink when it leaches from plastic products like baby bottles and sippy cups and acts as an endocrine disruptor in the body. The measure aims to protect California’s youngest infants and toddlers from exposure to BPA, which has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, obesity, neurological and behavioral changes, autism and hyperactivity.
“12 of every 1000 African American babies die before their first birthday, a glaring health disparity, and sadly only 80 of African American women breast feed, by banning BPA is baby bottle and sippy cups, we move that much closer to eliminating this health disparity and ensuring all children can grow strong in toxic free homes and communities,” says Jan Robinson Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness.
Immediately after Governor Brown signed AB 1319, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) issued an unprecedented statement to confuse the public about the harms of BPA. The ACC statement claims that BPA is no longer being used in baby bottles and sippy cups, after years of insisting the substance is safe. The group did not guarantee these products are off the market, and as we know, unsafe products are often pushed into low-income communities. Some ACC member companies produce BPA, which is made from petroleum products and used in canned food linings, thermal receipt paper, and many polycarbonate plastic products such as baby bottles and sippy cups. This ACC strongly opposed AB 1319 and has spent $9.4 million in California since 2005, when BPA-related measures were first introduced.
Nearly a dozen states have already implemented restrictions on BPA. China, The European Union, and the United Arab Emirates have all banned BPA in baby products, and France is set to phase out its use in all food containers.
These types of national and international change restrictions have been made over the past several years, but California still stood behind on this issue until now. The deliberate investment and valuing local community perspective, and specifically the contributions of women of color and reproductive justice groups, helped the passage and adoption of AB 1319. This kind of intersectional movement-building made the final push in adopting this measure. We act together in supporting an environmental health and reproductive justice issue like BPA exposure, and powerful interests like the American Chemistry Council are forced to listen and respond.
Joint efforts from groups like Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA and Black Women for Wellness are part of a larger movement that is looking for upstream solutions to the crisis of health disparities affecting African American and Latino communities. There is a growing understanding of the role that exposure to toxic chemicals have on health, from low birth weight, developmental and reproductive damage, learning and attention disorders and certain cancers.
Research has uncovered a relationship between household income and BPA exposure, showing that people with the highest BPA exposure were from the lowest income groups. These groups play a critical role in acting on scientific evidence, and promoting preventive policies to protect more already vulnerable groups such as children, women of color, and women of reproductive age.
Removing BPA from the food and drink containers of California children is considered a victory for children’s lifelong health, but also an indicator of national support for eliminating BPA in food packaging. 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 Rep. Ed Markey D-Mass., has introduced companion legislation. 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.
PSR-LA and BWW are continuing to work together on solutions like AB 1319 which ensure that a dual market gives toxic products to low-income and vulnerable communities, while providing safer alternatives for those with more resources. Manufacturers of BPA see the writing on the wall for unsafe products, like those containing BPA, and need to feel continued pressure from advocates for health and justice to provide better options for all. With this endocrine-disrupting chemical off the market for baby bottles and sippy cups, advocates are now looking to decrease BPA exposures from food can linings and many more everyday products.
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