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California Assembly fails to protect infants from toxic bisphenol A

After heavy industry lobbying, BPA ban bill falls short of votes needed to pass

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 11, 2009
Contact: Shannon Coughlin, Breast Cancer Fund, 415-336-2246, scoughlin@breastcancerfund.org

SACRAMENTO - Today the California state Assembly failed to pass SB 797, which would have banned bisphenol A, or BPA, from food and drink containers designed for children ages three and younger. BPA, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to breast cancer and other serious health problems, is used in some plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, as well as in the lining of infant formula cans. The bill may be taken up again by the Assembly as soon as January.

The Assembly's failure to pass the bill comes in the wake of a prolonged and well-funded PR and lobbying campaign by the BPA industry, targeting Assembly members. Industry meeting notes leaked in May documented plans to thwart the California legislation by "befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process." The notes also outlined plans to use "fear tactics" to scare the public into opposing efforts to restrict the chemical's use. The bill's advocates lament that these tactics appear to have been successful.

"Assembly members got an earfull from BPA industry lobbyists, and too many of them decided to listen to PR spin rather than to the science on BPA," said Gretchen Lee Salter, policy manager at the Breast Cancer Fund. "This chemical should have no place in baby food products."

Renee Sharp, director of the California Office of Environmental Working Group, said, "The chemical and pharmaceutical industries weren't shy in using the fear tactics they hatched behind closed doors here in California. Unfortunately, their influence, misinformation and outright lies carried the day."

The bill, introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, was a response to mounting scientific evidence that exposure to even extremely low levels of BPA can impact health. More than 200 scientific studies show that BPA exposure, particularly during early infancy, is associated with a wide range of adverse health effects in later life. In addition to breast cancer, BPA has been linked to prostate cancer, birth defects, infertility in men, early puberty in girls, diabetes and obesity. A main route of human exposure is through the leaching of BPA from food and beverage containers. Once in food, BPA moves quickly into the body. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable because their bodies are still developing.

Sen. Pavley noted, "The science on BPA clearly shows cause for alarm. Every child from every community in our state deserves access to safe, affordable products. I don't understand how some lawmakers are willing to ignore science and risk the health of California's children."

The compelling science has led to a flurry of legislative activity. Minnesota, Connecticut, Chicago and three New York counties have passed legislation banning BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, and more than 20 other states and municipalities and the U.S. Congress are considering similar legislation Massachusetts has issued a public health warning that pregnant women and young children should avoid BPA exposure. In the marketplace, chemical manufacturer Sunoco announced it will sell BPA only to companies that guarantee the chemical will not be used to make children's food and water containers. Leading infant formula companies are beginning to use BPA-free packaging, six baby bottle manufacturers have pledged to stop using the chemical, and retailers including CVS, Kmart, Safeway, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart have announced they will stop selling BPA-containing baby bottles. Still, many BPA-containing products remain on store shelves.

"This is a matter of justice, and today justice was denied," said Elisa Batista, a mother of two from Berkeley, Calif. "How sad that our state is unwilling to ensure that safe, BPA-free products are available to all parents."

Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles, said, "Too many Assembly members abdicated their responsibility to protect the health of infants and children from exposure to BPA. There is no justice when some consumers have the power to buy their way out of BPA contamination while others do not."

There was broad-base support for the bill, including from the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, California Women Infants and Children (WIC), Moms Rising, the California Teachers Association and the California Labor Council. Despite the overwhelming support for the bill, the majority-Democratic Assembly failed to garner the votes needed to pass the bill in this session. In contrast, Connecticut passed similar legislation by a nearly unanimous and bipartisan vote last spring, before the BPA-industry PR campaign had been fully developed and implemented.

"It's sobering that our Assembly did not act to protect the millions of California babies and toddlers who are exposed to BPA every day," said Salter. "But the tide has turned against this toxic chemical, and other states, Congress, and innovative companies are leading the way. Hopefully, California will catch up."