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Thursday, March 25, 2010 08:51 pm

BPA-free babies

Bill would ban chemical from children’s products

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PHOTO BY RICK WOOD/MCT

Illinois environmentalists, public health organizations and child safety advocates are seeking to ban Bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical used in making plastics, from reusable food and beverage containers, including baby bottles, water bottles and spill-proof cups.

The BPA-Free Kids Act would prohibit the sale or distribution of any reusable food or beverage container that contains BPA, including infant formula or baby food that is stored in a can, jar or plastic container that uses BPA. Starting June 1, 2011, additional baby food products would be required to contain a label warning consumers of their BPA content.

Used in hard plastics since the 1960s, BPA is a synthetic hormone used to produce the plastic in food containers and water bottles, along with the epoxy resin that coats the inside of metal food cans. According to Max Muller, program director of Environment Illinois, hundreds of scientific studies have linked low doses of BPA to obesity, breast and prostate cancer, hyperactivity, diabetes and other health concerns.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 percent of Americans age six and over have levels of BPA present in their urine. But finding BPA in urine doesn’t necessarily mean that the levels cause adverse health effects, the CDC says.

Science has advanced faster than the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory practices, according to Muller. Federal law meant to protect the public from toxic chemicals hasn’t changed in 33 years, Environment Illinois says. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Connecticut are among states that have banned BPA from children’s products. Last year, Chicago became the first city to ban BPA.

“Scientists understand that BPA can impact human health in a way that the traditional battery of toxicological FDA-required tests can’t detect,” he says.

Opponents say banning BPA should be left to the federal government, citing that there has been no official statement against Bisphenol A from the FDA. The FDA currently states that, “recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.”

But for Dr. Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, this opinion does not mean Illinois needs to ban BPA. The level of vigilance and regulation has been substantial enough to show that BPA is safe, he says.

“FDA is not taking or proposing any regulatory action,” Hentges says. “They continue to monitor the science and they continue to study BPA, but no regulatory action is being taken.”

Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, says he’s willing to work with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to create five-year deadlines for companies to come up with BPA-free alternatives. If no safer alternatives were available, companies could apply for an exemption to continue using BPA, he says.

“The last thing we really want to do is hurt someone’s business model,” Kotowski says.

However, Mark Biel, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, says a ban on BPA could hurt the state’s canned food industry. The epoxy resin used inside cans contains BPA, he says, and those cans prevent food-borne illness. Companies would rather change their packaging than put warning labels on cans, he says, thus hurting the 14 can plants in Illinois.

Muller says labeling is an integral part of the legislation, as it educates consumers. Labeling would also reward companies who’ve found BPA-free alternatives, he says.

“Right now, there’s a market distortion,” Muller says. “Consumers don’t have the information they need to choose safe food and the labeling provision of this bill would fix that market distortion, allow the market to function and cause market pressure to get BPA out of food containers.”

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.

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