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Bisphenol A: All eyes on California [Updated]

June 18, 2009 |  5:22 pm


Will California ban bisphenol A, a controversial chemical linked to hormone disruption and cancer? The state Senate passed a ban on the chemical in food and drink containers for children under 3 on June 2, and a July 15 state EPA hearing in Oakland will examine whether BPA should be added to California's Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.

"All eyes are kind of on California in terms of Proposition 65," said Shannon Coughlin of the Breast Cancer Fund.

Proposition 65, a 1986 ballot initiative, requires the governor to annually publish a list of suspect chemicals. If BPA is added to the list, all products containing the chemical would carry warning labels, although such products would not be banned under the measure. 

Companies whose products contain BPA are focusing lobbying efforts on California, according to meeting minutes leaked in May.

Connecticut, Minnesota, the city of Chicago and New York's Suffolk County have passed bans on BPA in young children's food and drink containers. California's proposed ban now lies in the hands of the state Assembly.

Controversy over BPA heated up last month when environmental groups leaked a memo from an official of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance describing a strategy to recruit pregnant women to promote the benefits of BPA. [Updated at 11:33 a.m. June 22: The document was allegedly a set of meeting notes from someone who attended the alliance's meeting. The group's chairman, John Rost, and Kathleen Roberts, a lobbyist for the alliance, verified its content for two publications.] BPA has been of particular concern to mothers because of studies that say it is dangerous for children's developing brains and bodies.

Some mothers are protesting on the blogosphere over possible industry manipulation, pointing out that health-conscious mothers have called attention to BPA by denouncing its presence in baby bottles.  Tanya Lieberman, a lactation consultant in Northampton, Mass., says she started noticing mothers using glass bottles instead of plastic four or five years ago. "They'd read about BPA ... and had switched over to BPA-free bottles." An anti-BPA petition circulated by the blog MomsRising last year is just one example of mothers organizing around the issue, Lieberman says.

BPA originally became controversial because of its presence in baby bottles, adult water bottles and other plastics (sometimes marked with a "PC" or a number 7 on the bottom), as well as in the lining of cans and formula containers. But not all parents may be aware of the data on BPA. And the suggestion in the industry memo to use "fear tactics (e.g., 'Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?')" in advertising, critics say, would target those who have not read up on the research. 

California last year passed a sweeping initiative to inform consumers about the ingredients in everyday products.

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: Companies target young mothers who may not know the risks associated with BPA. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times