Feinstein to fight for BPA-free formula
By Elaine Shannon, Environmental Working Group editor-in-chief Five years ago, tens of millions of baby bottles and sippy cups sold in the United States were manufactured with a petrochemical derivative called bisphenol A. Today, according to the American Chemistry Council, that number is - zero. The reason: the market - millions of American parents - has overwhelmingly rejected food containers made with BPA, a plastic hardener that leaches out of the plastic. Environmental Working Group and other consumer and health advocates have helped marshal a consumer revolt against baby bottles and sippy cups made of polycarbonate plastic because a major component, BPA, mimics estrogen and can disrupt the endocrine system. Research studies have linked BPA to cancer and serious brain, cardiovascular and reproductive system disorders, particularly when test animals are exposed in the womb and early life.
On Oct. 4, California became the latest and most populous state to bar the ubiquitous, lucrative chemical in baby bottles and sippy cubs. The California legislation was sponsored by EWG, which in 2009 published the first biomonitoring tests to detect BPA in American newborns. EWG's tests of umbilical cord blood bolstered biomonitoring research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has found BPA in the bodies of virtually all Americans over age six. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the United States produced 2.4 billion pounds of BPA worth about $2 billion in 2007. Two days after the California statute became law, the powerful American Chemistry Council declared that it would no longer battle legislative and regulatory efforts to rid baby bottles and sippy cups of BPA. In fact, the ACC actually petitioned the federal Food and Drug Administration to change its regulations to reflect that "BPA is no longer used to manufacture baby bottles and sippy cups and will not be used in these products in the future." Steve Hentges, Ph.D., of ACC's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group, said in a press release,"Although governments around the world continue to support the safety of BPA in food contact materials, confusion about these products has become an unnecessary distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators." (The ACC's categorical statement purports to cover ALL bottles and cups sold in the U.S., but independent research is needed to determine whether some U.S. outlets will still sell cheap BPA-based bottles and sippy cups manufactured overseas.) Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), wrote to EWG on Oct. 12 that she intends to press ahead with her own bill, introduced last January, that would impose a federal ban on BPA in all children's products - not only polycarbonate baby bottles and cups but also cans of infant formula and baby food. Nearly all tin cans are coated on the inside with epoxy resin, which, like polycarbonate plastic, is based on BPA. "At both the state and federal level, industry has spent millions lobbying against any restrictions on the use of BPA," Feinstein wrote to EWG. "You helped lead the way in California, and now the chemical industry has realized that consumers, advocates and legislators will not stand down against a chemical that could harm their health." Jeremy Jacobs of Greenwire reported Oct. 12 in the New York Times that the American Chemistry Council has spent nearly $10 million on lobbying in California since 2005, and uncounted more through national campaigns online. For Feinstein, for EWG and other reformers, the next hurdle is the canned food industry, which has been reluctant to abandon epoxy can coatings, claiming that substitutes are not as readily available and cheap. If Feinstein has her way, the industry would be forced to find a new coating material for cans of infant formula and baby food. Reformulation of those products could lead to even more dramatic market changes - because, as a 2007 EWG study documented, many canned foods like soup and soda favored by older kids and teens are also contaminated with BPA leached from can linings. Feinstein acknowledged that she faces a tough fight. "As you well know, last year the American Chemistry Council prevented a vote in the Senate on precisely what they now seem to be advocating - a national ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups," Feinstein wrote. "...I know how stubborn this industry has been, and how they have turned a blind eye to the manufacturers, retailers, and states taking action to remove BPA."