By Sarah Janssen
Many of my blog posts are about the hormone disrupting chemical, bisphenol A or BPA. This chemical has been in the spotlight quite a bit over the past several years and will be again this week in California when the State considers listing BPA on the "Prop 65" list of chemicals known to be developmental and reproductive toxicants. A listing could prompt warning labels on certain products.
Most new parents are already convinced of the danger and have been avoiding BPA like the plague. It is used in baby bottles, sippy cups, reusable water bottles, and even food packaging. BPA-free labels have cropped up everywhere in baby stores, sporting goods stores and other places that sell plastic beverage containers (remember polycarbonate Nalgene water bottles? They don't make them anymore!). All the publicity and public concern has resulted in Congressional investigations but there is not yet a federal law which regulates this chemical nor are products that contain BPA required to be labeled.
In the absence of federal law, several states - including my home state of California - are considering BPA bans in infant products, such as baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula. Similar bans have already passed in Chicago, Minnesota and Connecticut. Currently the California bill is working its way through the legislature and will face a critical floor vote in the Assembly in the next month.
Why all the fuss about this chemical? BPA is a hormone disrupting chemical that can interfere with normal development and function of the body. In animal studies, BPA exposure has been linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, pre-diabetes (insulin resistance), abnormal fat metabolism, early puberty, and changes in the way the brain develops resulting in behavioral abnormalities. There is scientific consensus that similar harm could be occurring in humans. Finally, all of us are exposed; over 90% of Americans tested by the CDC were found to have residues of BPA in their bodies
The California bill has progressed despite the best efforts of the BPA manufacturers and users who have been using all of the tactics that were outlined in a leaked memo after a high level meeting. I and others at NRDC have written about the industry memo which received a lot of media attention and spurred further Congressional enquiry. In particular the memo mentioned California would be one of the places they would be "...focusing on more legislative battles and befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process." In addition the industry has used "fear tactics" outlined in the memo such as saying formula would be pulled off the shelves and breast milk would be banned with this bill.
Reminiscent of how industry tried to confuse the state of the science on the harmful effects of tobacco or global warming, there are a handful of industry funded studies which have found no evidence of harm from BPA exposure which are held up as evidence of safety. In contrast, there are over 200 studies by independently funded academic scientists published in peer-reviewed scientific journals which have repeatedly found a wide variety of harmful effects. These effects are seen at levels of exposure dangerously close to what our children are exposed to on a daily basis.
While the industry has characterized the campaign to eliminate BPA as "lies", they have resorted to the failed tactics of the tobacco industry by putting profits before protecting the public's health. NRDC will continue to be actively involved in promoting legislation that bans BPA and in advocating for the BPA to be listed on California's Prop 65 list. The hearing is Wed and I'll let you know how it turns out!