On Friday, leaders from the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced legislation to establish a federal ban on bisphenol A (BPA) in all food and beverage containers. The bills, which are identical, are sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
BPA—a chemical found in the linings of cans and in polycarbonate plastic, including some sports bottles, food-storage containers and baby bottles—has potential links to a wide range of health effects. The diseases and health effects to which BPA has been linked include an increased risk of diseases or disorders of the brain, reproductive and immune systems.
“The scientific evidence is mounting that BPA poses serious health risks, especially to children, and manufacturers and retailers have already started to pull items from their store shelves,” said Markey, reported Agence France-Presse. “It is time for Congress to act quickly to ban this toxin from all food and beverage containers so that parents can feed their children without worrying that the food contains poisonous chemicals.”
The federal legislation follows the March 3 unanimous decision by the Suffolk County, New York Legislature to ban BPA in all beverage containers for children under the age of three. Today, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy will hold a public hearing on this landmark legislation. Levy has until April 2 to either sign or veto the bill to sign the bill to make Suffolk County the first jurisdiction in the nation to effectively ban BPA.
“This legislation will set a new precedent and sends a strong message to FDA and to industry that consumers, like those in Suffolk County, want change now,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst, Consumers Union.
Consumers Union has repeatedly called on FDA to ban BPA materials in infant and children’s products and food and beverage contact containers. Recent studies have linked BPA exposure to problems with liver function testing, an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease and interruptions in chemotherapy treatment. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown that 93% of Americans excrete some BPA in their urine. New studies also show that BPA seems to stay in the body longer than previously believed.
In August 2008, the federal agency said BPA was safe for humans. But the agency only considered studies that had been financed by the plastics industry. At last month’s Science Board Hearing, FDA tacitly acknowledged the serious health concerns regarding BPA, but the agency continues to maintain the position that no public health safeguards should be implemented at this time.
Steven Stern, the Suffolk County legislator who sponsored the ban in that county, told the Associated Press that the FDA review prompted him to act. “We can’t wait. We don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
Several states, such as Oregon, Washington and California, and cities, such as Chicago, are also considering BPA bans as the FDA continues to research BPA while allowing the product to remain on the market. In 2008, the Canadian government banned its use in baby bottles. Major U.S. retailers, including Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. and Wal-Mart, already have removed products containing BPA from their shelves because of the growing controversy.
Shortly after the Suffolk County Legislature made its decision, six of the largest manufacturers of baby bottles—Avent, Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex and Evenflow—decided they will no longer sell bottles made with BPA. The decision by manufacturers came after Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, joined by attorneys general of Delaware and New Jersey, wrote to the baby bottle companies urging them to stop using BPA because studies have linked the chemical to health problems in infants, including damage to reproductive, neurological and immune systems.
Almost immediately after this decision, gas and chemical giant Sunoco, acknowledging the safety concerns about BPA, announced they would restrict the sales of the controversial chemical in baby bottles and food containers for children under three. “We will no longer sell BPA to [Sunoco’s] customers who cannot make this promise,” Thomas Golembeski, head of public relations, wrote in a letter to two investors, according to the Associated Press.
While scientists continue to assess the health risks of BPA to consumers, the FDA is taking on a bigger risk by taking no action to protect the health and safety of consumers. Given the currently existing body of scientific knowledge about the health risks of BPA to consumers—and the growing consumer and industry movement again this chemical—the FDA should act immediately to protect high risk populations, such as children and babies, while it gathers more data.