A new law best summed up as taking an abundance-of-caution approach has put Minnesota on the front lines of the battle over a chemical called Bisphenol-A (BPA).
Used in plastic manufacturing, BPA has triggered bitter debate for years. The issue: whether small amounts of it leaching into food from containers is harmful. A controversial U.S. Food and Drug Administration report last year said current levels of exposure did not pose an immediate health risk. But others contend it poses health problems because of its hormone-like effect in humans.
Last year, Canada became the first country to ban its use in baby bottles. Now, Minnesota has become the first state to impose similar restrictions on BPA use. On Thursday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill phasing out BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. The chief House author was Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis.
Many retailers have already vowed to stop selling bottles containing BPA. And in March, the leading six baby bottle manufacturers — Avent, Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex and Evenflo — agreed to end its use. Nalgene, which manufactures popular brightly colored plastic water bottles, has also stopped using BPA.
So is Minnesota’s law still needed? The answer, according to advocates, is yes. “...The most significant reason is that not all retailers have agreed to stop carrying BPA free bottles — like dollar stores. Parents shouldn’t have to keep a list of where it is safe to shop,’’ said Deanna White, program director for Clean Water Action of Minnesota.
Although the marketplace has responded to consumer concerns, some Congressional lawmakers have proposed BPA bans. The spotlight put on the safety of chemicals in consumer products is welcome. Far too often, there’s been little oversight before use. And when a big study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found detectable BPA levels in 93 percent of people tested, that’s a concern.
Criticism of the the FDA pronouncement on BPA safety raised valid concerns about industry influence on the agency’s decision. Meanwhile, an organization called the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that the possibility of adverse health effects from BPA “cannot be dismissed.” Until there's more consensus, the Minnesota measure is a cautious but prudent step.