Potentially Dangerous Chemical has been in Plastic Food Containers for 40+ Years
By JENNIFER HLAD
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 02, 2010) - Child and family advocates, nurses, environmental organizations and business representatives Tuesday urged a Maryland House committee to support a bill banning a common chemical from infant and children's products.
The bill would prohibit the manufacture, sale or distribution of products containing bisphenol-A, for children younger than 4.
The chemical, also known as BPA, is used to make hard plastic, and is found in common household products such as baby bottles, plastic food containers and the lining of food cans.
BPA has been used for more than 40 years, and a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed traces of the chemical in the urine of more than 90 percent of people tested—indicating most of the U.S. population has been exposed.
The Food and Drug Administration and the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health recently released reports indicating they have "some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children."
But they stopped short of making recommendations or regulating the chemical.
Delegate James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George's, said he hopes the federal reports will help him pass his bill. This is the fourth year he has introduced the ban in children's products; last year, it passed the House of Delegates, but died in the Senate.
Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said the bill addresses "a significant public health issue" because the chemical is "nearly ubiquitous."
"With over 90 percent of the population exposed to this chemical, you do not want to be wrong," he told the committee.
Jeff Zellmer, legislative director for the Maryland Retailers Association, said retailers support the bill—with an amendment that adds a word to punish only those retailers who knowingly sell children's products with BPA.
A representative of the Maryland Association of Chain and Drug Stores said that group also supports the bill, with such an amendment.
Many retailers are already voluntarily pulling products made with BPA off the shelves, Gil Genn said.
The bill would be effective Oct. 1, and would give retailers until Jan. 1, 2012, to remove prohibited products from shelves, Hubbard said.
Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, cross-filed the bill in his chamber. It is co-sponsored by 14 other senators.
Frosh said his wife told him to introduce the bill.
"She said it's dangerous for kids," he said. "When you're talking about infants (and toddlers), you want to give them every chance to have a healthy, productive life."
Jenny Levin, an environmental health advocate with the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said children are more vulnerable to BPA than adults because their brains and other organs are still developing.
"They are not able to flush it out of their systems and get rid of it like adults can," she said. "Developing fetuses and young children... are especially vulnerable to toxins."
In a written statement to Capital News Service, a spokeswoman from the American Chemistry Council said it believes decisions about regulation of consumer products "belong at the federal level."
"In their recent statements, the FDA reiterated that BPA is not proven to harm children or adults, called for more research, and provide consumers with information on how to minimize infant exposure to BPA, if parents wish to do so," Kathryn Murray St. John said in the statement.
"FDA officials stated that if they thought BPA was unsafe, they would be taking strong regulatory action," the statement said.
If mothers do want to avoid exposing their infants to BPA, they should breast feed if possible, or consider using powdered formula instead of liquid, said Anila Jacob, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group.
Jacob also recommends families look for BPA-free bottles.
Parents of older children should avoid sippy cups or other plastic drink containers with BPA, Jacob said. And people of all ages can avoid microwaving food in plastic containers, reduce use of plastic water bottles and avoid canned food, Jacob said.
Plastic products with the recycling code "7" on the bottom generally contain BPA, but not always, Jacob said. And some products that contain BPA may not have a 7 on the bottom, she said.
BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which means it can disrupt hormone systems, Jacob said.
Laboratory animal studies showed that low-level exposure to BPA during development can cause changes in the brain and behavior, and is associated with effects on the prostate gland, according to the National Toxicology Program's report on the chemical.
More research is needed, but "because these effects in animals occur at (BPA) exposure levels similar to those experienced by humans, the possibility that (BPA) may alter human development cannot be dismissed," the report's conclusion states.
Though there are BPA-free products available—and some retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us and Rite Aid, sell only BPA-free baby bottles—Levin said it is important to legislate a ban on the products.
"It really is an environmental justice issue, because the baby bottle makers who no longer use BPA, not everyone has access to those brands," she said.
Canada banned BPA in baby bottles in 2008. Minnesota, Connecticut, Chicago, and four counties in New York have also passed some type of BPA ban.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.