By Sarah Janssen
What does "known to cause" mean to you? Does it mean "beyond a reasonable doubt"? Or "clear and convincing"?
To a scientist like me, this type of legal-speak is baffling, yet we were hearing a lot of it from the industry lawyers in California today. It clearly tripped up a Governor-appointed panel when they considered whether to list BPA as "known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm" under California's Proposition 65 - a landmark consumer right-to-know law. The panelists were confused and struggling with one of the most widespread and scientifically complex toxic chemicals in use today, and they finally threw up their hands in defeat. The committee's vote not to list this chemical was influenced by a 90 minute industry presentation that came straight from their formerly secret "playbook", which relies on casting doubt on the extensive scientific evidence of harm. I feel pure outrage when political and legal tactics put the health of babies and children at risk.
Fortunately, today's vote was far from the last word on this issue. We have the science on our side... and we also have a few lawyers of our own. Today we filed a legal petition with the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) asking them to take another - more careful - look at this issue. Specifically, the U.S. National Toxicology Program concluded that there is widespread exposure to BPA and that is possible that BPA exposure affects human development or reproduction and found "clear evidence of adverse effects" in laboratory animals including fetal death, reduced growth, and delayed puberty from BPA. The committee ignored this important information, and we believe it needs to be considered and the public must be warned.
Other efforts to protect the public are moving ahead, notwithstanding today's vote. State legislation pending in California and already passed in Connecticut, Minnesota, Chicago and Suffolk County, NY to ban BPA in baby products is now even more important. Federal chemical policy reform is also desperately needed to reform the way industrial chemicals are tested and used in this country. Chemical manufacturers should be required to prove their products are safe before they are put in products and released into our bodies and the environment. And the public has a right to know about the health and environmental risks posed by new and existing chemicals, and where those chemicals are being used. My colleague, Daniel Rosenberg, has previously blogged about BPA as a perfect example of how our current chemical policies fail to protect us.
It's clear that we need as many tools as possible to properly protect children's health from corporate interests, and that the California Assembly needs to take a stand and protect babies from this hazardous chemical. We are also looking to the FDA to complete a thorough and un-biased assessment of BPA and to take action to protect consumers.
The panel's conclusion that BPA is not "known to cause" reproductive harm flies in the face of the National Toxicology Program report finding "clear evidence" of harm. For many parents - myself included - that is plenty of evidence, and the actions by various state and local legislative bodies show that there is more than enough evidence to justify regulation.
By Sarah Janssen