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California chemical wars, continued

Monday, August 11, 2008

postcard_final.jpgA few weeks ago, I told you about the U.S. chemical industry's war to stop two California bills that would ban carcinogenic Teflon chemicals in food packaging and endocrine-disrupting chemicals in baby bottles. Heading into the final weeks of the legislative session, both bills, which are sponsored by Environmental Working Group, are still alive, and the industry is still throwing everything it's got at them. Over the weekend, more details emerged of the industry's campaign against the second bill, Senate Bill 1713, which would ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from baby bottles, sippy cups and food packaging for young children. The Orange County Register's Jennifer Muir reports:

A chemical industry-backed lobbying group has mounted a statewide campaign to convince Californians that a potentially dangerous compound found in baby products and canned goods is safe, and warns that if efforts to ban it are successful, "going to a grocery store may never be the same."

State officials and scientists say the ads are misleading and designed to scare consumers into keeping products that could harm children on the market.

The campaign, paid for by industry trade group the American Chemistry Council, urges voters to voice opposition to a Senate bill that would outlaw the chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), in products made for young kids.

Dozens of independent scientific studies have suggested that the chemical could cause everything from cancer to reproductive and behavioral problems, although others have found products containing BPA to be safe.

Mailers and ads appearing in newspapers across the state depict an empty grocery cart in the desert and warn that if BPA is banned, canned food and beverages might be vulnerable to spoilage or contamination. Food products, the ads say, could disappear from grocery store shelves even though "rigorous scientific reviews" conclude the products are safe.

"Maybe that's why no other state in the country bans BPA," the ads say.

A spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, the industry's lobbying arm, told the Register he did not know how much the anti-1713 campaign has cost, but it included ads in the print and online editions of leading newspapers, direct mail, pre-recorded phone calls and radio ads.

But there are signs that this scorched-Earth campaign by the industry may backfire. Several legislative staffers told me last week they'd gotten calls from residents of their districts complaining about the deceptive nature of the ads. One Assembly member, Lois Wolk of Davis, issued a press release calling the campaign "toxic to the [political] process."

"When people call my office concerned, we tell them the whole story," said Wolk. "We tell them who paid for the mailer and what the bill is really about. Once they hear the facts, most change their position. And many are angry and annoyed at the Chemistry Council for misleading them."

The showdown on the Assembly floor is Tuesday. SB 1713 has already passed the Senate, so if it clears the Assembly, it goes to Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk, and no one is sure which way the Governator is leaning. The Associated Press's Samantha Young reports:

He signed legislation last year banning a common chemical known as phthalates in baby products and toys. But he told lawmakers at the time that a "product by product" ban was not the most effective way to craft state policy regarding potentially unsafe chemicals. . . . The Schwarzenegger administration created a "green chemistry" initiative in 2007 to study how California should regulate chemicals, an approach favored by industry and many scientists who say there should be a more complete vetting of consumer products.

We support a comprehensive approach to chemical reform too. But that shouldn't stop California from acting in the meantime to restrict chemicals that clearly are a hazard to public health.