Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Winning on BPA? Not so fast.

It’s been quite a ride with the fight against the toxic plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA)–  David vs. Goliath, public interest advocates and a handful of scientists pushing back against lobbyists and dealmakers, shady government contractors, bogus science,  backroom strategy sessions.

The cascade of disclosures about the dangers of BPA, a synthetic estrogen used to toughen polycarbonate plastics and epoxy, has inspired an extraordinary convergence of events: a nationwide groundswell in advocacy, a media drumbeat, Congressional investigations, a consumer revolt, visible shifts in corporate behavior and a slew of state legislative proposals.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve witnessed startling developments on the BPA front:

  • Sketchy industry contractors – Does anyone remember Sciences International, the company engaged to run the government safety review of BPA while working for BPA manufacturers Dow and BASF?   SI was finally fired in April 2007, under pressure from Congressman Henry Waxman, who had launched a pointed inquiry into government conflict-of- interest policies —or, more accurately, lack of same.
  • Congressional investigations – When called to account by Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, then chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, infant formula makers uniformly responded that they had no idea how much  BPA is in their formula. Yet, according to tests by EWG and the federal Food and Drug Administration, more BPA leaches into infant formula from epoxy can linings than from polycarbonate baby bottles.
  • Government collusion with industry –  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has made public internal government documents showing that FDA officials e-mailed industry hacks for advice on how to debunk independent scientific research on BPA, even before the studies at issue were published.
  • Documents revealing that Coca-Cola, Del Monte, Crown, Alcoa and other of food processing and chemical industry lobbyists plan to spend $500,000 to scare pregnant women and minorities into thinking that no BPA means no baby food — and perhaps no canned food at all.

And we’ve seen some real progress:

  • Limited BPA bans have been enacted in Canada, Minnesota and Connecticut, Suffolk County New York, and Chicago.  Similar measures have been introduced in the U.S. Congress and 20 more states.
  • Six major baby bottle companies agreed to stop making BPA-based plastic baby bottles.
  • Major retailers, led by Wal-Mart, have pledged not to sell baby bottles made with BPA.
  • Sunoco, the Philadelphia-based petrochemical company, has stopped selling BPA for fabrication into children’s products.

When an oil giant like Sunoco thinks BPA is too dangerous for children, you’d think government health officials would take notice.

But they haven’t.  Not so far, anyway.  BPA remains in cans of infant formula and other kid favorites like canned soup, mac and cheese and ravioli.

EWG is sponsoring legislation in California that would prohibit BPA in all products targeted to children under three years of age, including infant formula, and we have testified in favor of BPA restrictions in Maryland, Illinois and other states. We’ll continue to urge state legislators to take action where the federal government has abjectly failed to protect the public because despite the important victories in reducing BPA exposure, the reality is there’s still plenty of BPA in our environment.

The greatest lesson of the BPA saga is how it casts in sharp relief the flaws in our chemical regulatory system.

Until we fundamentally transform the system we’ll be trapped on the treadmill of piecemeal progress, repeating the BPA debacle over and over.


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13 Responses to “Winning on BPA? Not so fast.”

  1. I applaud EWG’s efforts to educate and enlighten parents about what is really important and just what we are up against in our fight to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Thank you.

  2. Dru Thomson says:

    Thank you for all you do!

  3. Ami says:

    How did the BPA legislation in the different states initiate? what would it take to start the process in my state (KS)

  4. Lindsey says:

    So happy today after going in Babies R Us to shop for a sippy cup for my 18 month old son…found out that just in the last 3 months Babies R Us now only carries bottles and sippy cups that are BPA free! I was so happy to find this out and now I am not only limited to Clean Canteen and Born Free which I have been using. It is so liberating to finally have choices. Although it is still an uphill battle eliminating all BPA from products, this is a huge leap to protecting our children and their development! Today is a good day!

  5. Laura says:

    Banning bpA from baby bottles and other products that young children eat is important. However, it is missing a tremendous piece of the puzzle. Babies are exposed to bpA IN UTERO through the foods and drinks that their mothers are consuming that are contaminated with bpA. This prenatal exposure has been linked to birth defects- most strongly to hypospadias. My third child was born with hypospadias and I am convinced that this was caused by my high consumption of canned beans and canned tomatoes during my pregnancy. The cans are lined with bpA containing plastic- something that I didn’t know about until it was too late.

    I’ve always been aware of the dangers of plastics. I don’t even use plastic water bottles- I’ve used a stainless steel water bottle for many years. I and my children only use ceramic plates, bowl and drinking cups- no kiddie plastic dishware in our house. But I never realized that steel cans were lined with bpA containing plastic.

    Until we remove bpA from the entire food and beverage market so that pregnant women are not consuming it, children will continue to be damaged by this chemical before they are even born. It’s simply not enough to take it out of bottles and formula cans. That is too little, too late. Besides, what about the breastfed babies? If mothers are consuming bpA than babies- born and unborn- are at risk, period. BpA must be banned from food products completely.

    • Jennifer says:

      I agree with you completely. These companies are not “self-regulating” themselves, and market forces are not doing it. The government needs to step in and regulate this.

  6. Bill Allayaud says:

    Ami: I can speak for California. Concerned and even outraged parents, when they find out that the government has not banned a substance known to have bad health effects, go to environmental health organizations and legislators for help. Senate Bill 797 by Senator Fran Pavley is sponsored by EWG, and we are being helped by the Breast Cancer Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and other groups. You should go to environmental health organizations, especially those that work with children or mothers’ issues, and ask for their help. Or, contact a legislator directly who you know is willing to stand up to the chemical companies. And some good news: in Minnesota and Connecticut, the bills banning BPA from kids products were passed on a bi-partisan basis, so don’t assume anything about your Kansas Legislature and go forward!

    Bill Allayaud, EWG staff, Sacramento, CA

  7. Catalina says:

    It’s just plain scary what our children (and us adults too) are exposed to and that the government continues to turn a purposely blind eye to safeguarding our future generations. Thank you EWG for being the light in the darkness and for your efforts to bring knowledge and safety to all our families.

  8. indra says:

    Thank you for all you do!
    Could you please suggest a brand of baby food containers? Are Playtex products safe?
    Thank you.

  9. Caroline parks says:

    Anyone know a way to determine which toys are bpa free? Which companies with both old and new toys can be trusted? EWG tells me bpa can
    be in any kind of plastic toy so it seems impossible to identify–it isn’t only in the clear hard plastic…help!!!

  10. Tekla Szymanski says:

    I recently canceled my Poland Spring home delivery because all their 5 gallon water bottles are BPA-laden, and they don’t offer alternatives. I had an argument with the sales representative, who insisted that BPA is safe. When I told her that hard plastic bottles for spring water storage in Europe and Canada are made without BPA, she said that was impossible. Really? I use filtered tap water (solid carbon filter) instead until the US plastic industry gets moving. Much healthier and cost effective.

  11. Sonya @ EWG says:

    Thanks for all the comments! General tips about avoiding BPA can be found on our website, including this post:
    http://www.enviroblog.org/2009/05/ewgs-tips-to-avoid-bpa-exposure.html

    indra and Caroline–It is difficult for EWG to say for certain that Playtex products, or those by any other company, are BPA-free. The best way to find out is to contact the company directly. That also lets them know that their customers are watching what they do.

    Some websites like Soft Landing (www.thesoftlanding.com) and Zrecs (http://www.zrecsguide.com) have done a great job surveying kid’s products for BPA and other harmful chemicals.

    Tekla–You may be able to find a water service that uses glass or another type of plastic. However carbon filtering works for many households. Our Safe Drinking Water Guide will give you more details (www.ewg.org/files/EWG_Safedrinkingwater.pdf)

    Sonya Lunder, EWG staff, Washington DC.

  12. Tom says:

    Poland Spring Still Claims BPA is Safe!

    Here is their response to my inquiry as to whether their bottles are BPA free.

    “Thank you for taking the time to contact Poland Spring®, regarding if there is BPA in the 1 gallon containers. We welcome questions and comments from loyal consumers such as yourself and appreciate this opportunity to assist you.

    Poland Spring® is bottled in #1 (PET), #2 (HDPE), and #7 (polycarbonate) plastic. The component BPA is found only in #7 plastics, which are used for 3 gallon and 5 gallon containers. The smaller sizes of plastic bottles do not contain BPA, such as the .5 liter and 1 gallon.

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carefully reviews food and beverage packaging materials, including the plastics used to make water bottles, to help assure the safety of our food supply. We regularly conduct tests on all of our bottles and our waters for safety, quality, and performance, and we follow external scientific research on plastic safety. Nestlé Waters abides by all of the FDA’s regulations for our products.

    Because of its use in medical products, polycarbonate materials have undergone extensive testing and review by the FDA. BPA (bisphenol-A) is safe. There is no known study indicating any risk to human health from exposure to BPA. Over 30 human and environmental health studies have been conducted. All confirm that BPA is not harmful when materials are used as intended.

    We care about what our consumers think, and we are currently testing some alternate materials to see if we can offer a 3 or 5 gallon bottle that is BPA-free for those consumers who prefer it. At the moment, we are merely in the testing phase, but as soon as we have a BPA-free option, we will certainly offer it to our consumers.

    For more specific information about BPA, please see our press release: Nestle Waters North America, June 25th 2009.”