New California law will limit bisphenol A in products for infants and toddlers

bottles

Plastic baby bottles, containing a chemical called bisphenol (BPA), stand to be banned. Photo courtesy of timlewisnm via Flickr.

In a move that will in effect ban a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) from being used in baby bottles and toddler cups manufactured or sold in California, a bill known as the Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act (AB 1319) was signed into law Tuesday night by Governor Jerry Brown.

A number of Oakland-based parents’ groups and environmental organizations were supporters of the bill, including Making our Milk Safe (MOMS), the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has its California office in Oakland.  Mary Brune, MOMS project director, called the signing of AB 1319 a victory for California parents.  “We have voices.  We have power,” she said.

BPA, which is found in many plastic food and beverage containers, is considered an endocrine disruptor, which means that it can act like an artificial hormone when it enters the human body, according to a 2008 National Toxicology Program brief that examined the effects of BPA exposures on human health, reproduction, and development.  In that report, the group concluded that there was “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bispohenol A.”  

“The science is overwhelming,” said Renee Sharp, senior scientist and California director for the Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy nonprofit that co-sponsored the bill.  “BPA is connected to a whole range of health problems including cancer, brain development, and other diseases.”

Starting in 2013, the law will prohibit the use of BPA at levels above 0.1 parts per billion (ppb) in any bottle or cup intended for use by a child age 3 or younger.  It also will require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative when replacing BPA in containers intended for infants and toddlers.

“Kids are most susceptible,” Sharp said.  “Their brains and bodies are still developing.  BPA disrupts these hormone systems that they need to grow and develop.”

Seven years ago, when Alameda resident Mary Brune was pregnant with her first child, she had never heard of BPA.  For the first six months of her pregnancy, she said, she drank out of a Nalgene water bottle made out of BPA-containing polycarbonate plastic.  But when she started to learn about BPA, and its possible effects on humans, specifically children, she felt that something needed to be done.  That’s when she and three other mothers founded MOMS. The non-profit was started in 2005, and works to address the threat of toxic chemicals from the environment finding their way into human breast milk.

“This has been very much a grass-roots, parent-led movement,” said Brune.  “Five to six years ago no one knew what BPA was.  But as more and more people know, there has been more outrage in the parenting community and decision-makers have had to take notice.”

AB 1319 was introduced in February by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina Del Rey). After passing the Assembly in early September by a vote of 49 to 27, the Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act was approved by the governor on October 4.  Similar bills had been introduced in both the 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions, but both of them failed to make it out of either a Senate or Assembly vote.

Butler’s original bill called to also prohibit the manufacture, sale, or distribution of liquid infant formula in a can or plastic bottle containing BPA, but that provision did not make it into the final bill that was signed into law.

AB 1319 defines an acceptable limit for BPA at 0.1 parts per billion, rather than banning it altogether.  Sharp says the bill’s language actually makes the law much more protective than laws in the other nine states that have BPA bans. “In other states where containers have to be ‘BPA-free’ there aren’t definitions for what that means,” Sharp said. “There could be BPA in those containers from contamination or the manufacturing process and we’d have no idea how much is actually in them.”

But, said Sharp, “0.1 ppb is a feasible level to measure and it should be a pretty protective level.”

A number of lobbyists, non-profit advocacy groups, and business organizations opposed the bill, including the California League of Food Processors (CLFP), the California Chamber of Commerce and the American Chemistry Council.  In a letter written to Assemblywoman Butler in April, these opposition groups argued that “this legislation runs contrary to the consensus of the scientific community and international regulatory agencies that have concluded BPA is safe as used.”

Opponents to the bill also argued that the assessment of chemicals would be better handled in a scientific arena than a political setting.  In the 2011 edition of the CLFP’s News & Views, a newsletter published by the league, it stated that the group was lobbying against the measure on the principles that “the legislation is flawed scientifically, poses implementation issues, and is a political end-run around the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control effort to implement a science-based approach to assessing chemicals and their alternative in consumer products.”

While some manufacturers may be concerned about what the new law will mean for them, other makers of baby bottles and toddler cups have been going without BPA for years.  Luz Delaveau, who owns Baby World retail stores in Oakland, San Rafael and San Bruno, which sell housewares for infants and young children, looks for vendors that make BPA-free products. Today, she said, there are plenty.  “Years ago, when these studies started coming out about the effects of BPA, many vendors decided not to use it in their products,” she said. “I didn’t see any changes in the prices of products, it was more a matter of changing perception.”

For example, Delaveau said that baby bottles made with BPA are clear and easy to see through, but when they’re manufactured without BPA the plastic appears somewhat foggy.  “In the beginning it was like, ‘What is this?  Is this dirty?’” she said.  “People have to realize that it’s fine even though it looks different.”

For the supporters of AB 1319, the new limits on BPA are being celebrated as a step in the right direction, but for Brune the fight is not over.  “As far as chemical reform policy goes, we’re not done yet,” she said. “My concern is, ‘What’s the next BPA?’”

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