BPA Gets the Boot from Chi Town (and Minnesota, too)

UPDATE: Emails show that the FDA relied heavily on the industry for science on BPA.

Chicago is the first city in the nation to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from plastic baby bottles and sippy cups for children under the age of 3. The Chicago City Council voted to approve the ban yesterday, which would be implemented early next year, and Mayor Richard Daley said he will sign the ordinance. “The F.D.A. continues to be recalcitrant and very slow about taking any action on BPA,” said Chicago Alderman Manuel Flores, one of two city officials who proposed the ban last year, after hearing concerns about the potentially harmful effects of the chemical to young children.

Recently, Suffolk County, N.Y. became the first county in the country to impose a similar ban. Late last week, Minnesota became the first state to ban BPA from plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. BPA—a chemical used in polycarbonate plastic, including some baby bottles, cups, sports bottles, food-storage containers and the linings of cans—has potential links to a wide range of serious health effects. For more about the serious health effects, and politics, of BPA, check out these previous Civil Eats posts here and here.

In March, the Suffolk County, New York legislature unanimously passed a bill to ban BPA. That bill was signed into law in April. Federal legislation to ban BPA in all food and beverage containers, the “Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009,” was introduced in Congress on March 20, 2009. The bills, which are identical, are sponsored by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Six of the largest manufacturers of baby bottles recently decided they will no longer sell bottles made with BPA. In addition, retailers such as Babies ‘R’ Us, Safeway, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, CVS and Wal-Mart are in the process of or have already phased out selling baby bottles with BPA, and chemical giant Sunoco, acknowledging the safety concerns about BPA, recently announced they would restrict the sales of the controversial chemical in baby bottles and food containers for children under three. Just this week, chemical giant Hexion said it will indefinitely idle a 190 million-lb-per-year BPA plant in Texas due to “continued soft demand for BPA.” (But, in bad news, the company said it is bringing a 310 million-lb-per-year BPA plant back online after it was down for maintenance.) It’s clear that the sea change in bans is impacting production.

Several states, such as California, Connecticut, New York and Michigan are also considering BPA bans. In 2008, the Canadian government banned its use in baby bottles. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Science Board is currently pursuing additional research on the issue.

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In August 2008, the FDA reiterated its stance that BPA was safe for humans and has since come under intense criticism from the scientific community including its own Science Advisory Board. At the February 2009 Science Board Hearing, FDA tacitly acknowledged the serious health concerns regarding BPA, but the agency has not yet revised the prior position that no public health safeguards should be implemented at this time.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown that 93 percent of Americans excrete some BPA in their urine suggesting that exposure to BPA is likely widespread and ongoing. Moreover, new studies suggest that BPA seems to stays in the body longer than previously believed. Given the existing and growing body of scientific knowledge about the health risks of BPA to consumers, and the growing consumer and industry movement against this chemical, it’s great that Chicago is moving ahead of federal action. But, consumers will remain at risk until federal action is taken. Hopefully, new leadership at FDA will act swiftly to address this important public health concern.

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Naomi Starkman is a Founder and the Editor-in-Chief of Civil Eats. She was a 2015-16 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford and a founding board member of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Naomi served as the Director of Communications & Policy at Slow Food Nation and has worked as a media consultant at Newsweek, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, and WIRED magazines. She was previously the Director of Communications for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). After graduating from law school, she served as the Deputy Executive Director of the City of San Francisco’s Ethics Commission. Naomi is an avid organic gardener, having worked on several farms.  Read more >

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