Leaked Industry Memo Prompts Warning on Hormones

by Dan Aiello , California Progress Report

Like similar legislation in other state houses this year, California Senator Fran Pavley’s (D-Agoura Hills) SB 797, the Toxin-Free Toddlers and Babies Act, will face coordinated opposition from a chemical industry fighting to preserve $6 billion dollars in annual sales of the plastic hardening agent, bisphenol A (BPA) as the bill now heads to assembly committees on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials and Health.

But it is the leak of an industry memo this month outlining a BPA joint trade association’s political strategy designed to incite doubt, propagate fear, seek a pregnant spokesperson willing to promote the benefits of the chemical, introduce the idea through online media that banning BPA is thinly-veiled racism, and ‘befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process’ in California and Connecticut, that has shed an intriguing light upon a bill that, until now, none but environmentalists and anti-cancer advocacy groups knew.

The trade association memo also noted that its committee doubted ‘obtaining a scientific spokesperson’ to support BPA would be possible. The Washington Post was the first to report on the leaked memo earlier this month.

BPA: From hormone to hardener

According to the Breast Cancer Fund, BPA was originally synthesized in 1936 as an estrogen replacement therapy, but since the 1940s it has been used primarily as a hardening agent in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic.

BPA can be found in plastic baby bottles, children’s ‘sippy’ cups, large water bottles like those delivered to offices, and in the epoxy resin coating in the interior of modern metal food and aluminum soda cans, among other products.

In 2005, 2 million metric tons of Bisphenol A was sold globally, with sales last year exceeding $6 billion dollars.

Evidence of effects of low doses of BPA in animals has generated concern over low-level chronic exposure in humans, according to the study, Association of Urinary Bisphenol "A Concentration With Medical Disorders and Laboratory Abnormalities in Adults,’ published in the September, 2008 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The chemical has been shown in studies to act as an endocrine disruptor similar to phthalates, affecting the hormonal system as well as the metabolism of humans, according to an Endocrine Society Scientific Statement.

BCF added that more than 130 studies now link BPA exposure at very low doses to early onset of prostate and breast cancer, obesity, brain damage, lowered sperm counts and early puberty in adolescents.

The unborn, growing infants and children are the most vulnerable to BPA exposure, claims BCF, adding that BPA exposure in formative years can set the stage for later-life diseases.

‘There is a deep sense of public outrage around BPA,’ said Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy at the Breast Cancer Fund. ‘This is a chemical so powerful it can cross the placenta and negatively affect the developing fetus.’

BPA in food containers and food serving products is known to leach into foods, with one study by the University of Cincinnati showing that the higher the temperature of the food, like warm milk in a baby bottle, increases the amount of BPA leaching, while there is increasing concern among environmentalists that prolonged exposure to low levels of BPA may induce chronic toxicity in humans.

Retail companies like Walmart and Toys R’ Us, and plastics producers Nalgene and Sunoco, already have taken steps to reduce children’s exposure to BPA, according to Bill Allayaud, lobbyist for Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group and sponsor of SB 797.

‘They’re saying the science is clear ‘ low dose BPA studies now strongly indicate diabetes, heart disease, hyperactivity, breast cancer and prostate cancer,’ at relatively younger ages ‘have a causal link’ to endocrine disruptors like BPA, Allayaud told California Progress Report. ‘We’re not saying ‘BPA causes breast cancer, take it out now,’ ‘ but the causal relationship is getting more and more clear ‘ you’re basically giving everyone a tiny birth control pill everyday.’

Consumer Federation of California reported last week on a new finding that BPA is linked to heart disease in women.

Allayaud said the concern is especially great for pregnant women and nursing mothers, noting, ‘something like 80 percent of babies are born with phthalates in their urine now, it’s getting pretty scary.’

For legislators who ask ‘Why should I vote for this now if Green Chemistry is coming,’ Allayaud replies, ‘The best case scenario is green chemistry will be up and running in 3 years,’ but believes it could be ‘up to 7 years’ before BPA would be addressed. ‘Right now we know that BPA is bad. Right now we know that 550,000 babies are born in California each year. Why should any of them be exposed to BPA,’ asked Allayaud.

Allayaud also disputed the chemical industry’s claim that banning BPA in baby formula packaging and infant food serving containers would unfairly target low-income families. ‘You can buy BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups right now and the cost is nearly identical.’ In fact, Allayaud worries that BPA baby bottles and sippy cups ‘will end up in bins at dollar stores’ if the legislation fails to pass.

Six baby formula manufacturers already have eliminated BPA from their containers and WICA supports the BPA ban, according to Allayaud.

With so many studies linking low-dose exposure of BPA to toxicity and illness, it might seem that a bill banning the chemical from baby food containers and food servers for infants a prudent initiative easily passed, but that was not the case last year when a similar initiative was introduced.

On August 29, 2008, SB 797’s predecessor, SB1713 (Migden), the Toxin-Free Toddlers and Babies Act – which would have banned the manufacture, sale, or distribution in commerce of any baby bottles or sippy cups containing the estrogenic chemical, failed to pass the Assembly by a vote of 31-36, with [number] absent or abstaining.

Things appear to be different in 2009, however. Recently, Connecticut legislators passed a similar ban on BPA, and in March, Senator Dianne Feinstein, D, Calif, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass, introduced companion federal legislation, the Banning Poisonous Additives Act, to ban BPA in all food and beverage containers. The introduction of the legislation followed a February report by the National Toxicology Program in the Department of Health and Human Services that cited ‘some concern’ BPA may affect neural development in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures.

Also in February, a new federal law took effect banning another endocrine disruptor, phthalates, from children’s toys and childcare articles. The original amendment, which passed as part of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act last fall, also was sponsored by Feinstein.

The new law permanently bans three types of phthalates from children’s toys and child care articles, and outlaws three additional phthalates from toys and certain other children’s products pending an extensive study of their health effects in children and pregnant women. It was modeled after California’s phthalate ban, signed into law in 2007. Like phthalates, BPA is a known endocrine disruptor.

On June 3, Sen. Dianne Feinstein urged the assembly to follow the senate in passing SB 797.

‘I commend the California State Senate for taking up this important legislation to ban BPA is children’s products,’ Senator Feinstein said. ‘While we continue to work on comprehensive chemical policy reform at the federal level, California should continue to lead by reducing children’s exposure to dangerous substances, like BPA, wherever possible. I urge the California Assembly to quickly pass this bill.’

SB797, the Toxin-Free Toddlers and Babies Act, was assigned to the Assembly committees on Enivronmental Safety and Toxic Materials and Health on June 15, 2009. The Breast Cancer Fund, Consumer Federation of California and Environmental Working Group have issued calls to their members to encourage legislators to support the bill.

SB797 would prohibit the manufacture, sale, or distribution in commerce of any bottle, cup, or liquid, food, or beverage in a can or jar that contains bisphenol A at a level above 0.1 parts per billion (ppb), under specified conditions. The bill would also require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative when replacing bisphenol A in containers.

‘This bill would protect children from the daily intake of this dangerous chemical by banning the use of BPA in children’s feeding devices designed for children 3 and younger, specifically in baby bottles, sippy cups, formula cans and baby food jars,’ according to a statement on the Pavley’s website.

Despite the studies cited by BCF, CFC and EWG, the FDA last year maintained that BPA is safe. Allayoud noted, however, ‘that was the finding of the previous [Bush] administration.’

According to an April 11 McClatchey Newspaper report, "[a]n international consortium of industry, academic and government scientists has rejected as incomplete and unreliable the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s case that a chemical found in food containers and other household products is safe."

The article noted a 2008 Congressional inquiry found that the FDA, under the Bush Administration, relied on just two studies ‘ both funded by the chemical industry ‘ in declaring BPA safe, and ignored the more than 100 peer-reviewed studies by government and university researchers that linked BPA to negative health effects. Even the FDA’s own science panel has raised concern about BPA, according to the consortium.

Health Canada released tests earlier this year showing that BPA was detected in 96 percent of soft drinks tested. Among the companies present at the BPA joint trade association political strategy conference were soda manufacturers Coca-Cola and and Crown, California-based foods manufacturer Del Monte and aluminum can manufacturer, California-based, Alcoa.

‘Evidence is mounting that exposure to this chemical is dangerous for developing children,’ said Feinstein. ‘Americans should not be used as guinea pigs by chemical companies while we wait, potentially for several years, for even more scientific evidence showing this chemical is harmful to our health. The time has come to take action.’

The American Chemistry Council, in its written oppostion to SB797, stated that ‘safety assessments of BPA have been comprehensively examined by many government and scientific bodies worldwide, which have all reached conclusions that consistently support the continued safe use of BPA in its current applications.

In response, EWG cited Japan, Canada and Norway, as well as local jurisdictions and states within the U.S. that have banned BPA in many products.

Earlier this month, the Washington State House of Representatives voted to ban BPA in children’s food containers, and currently 18 other states are considering, or are planning to introduce, legislation to more strictly regulate BPA exposures, including Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Missouri, Hawaii, Illinois, Wisconsin and New Jersey.

Supporters of SB 797 include:

Environmental Working Group, the bill sponsor, Asian Health Services, Breast Cancer Fund, California Association of Sanitation Agencies, California League of Conservation Voters, California Nurses Association, CALPIRG, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, California WIC Association, City and County of San Francsico, Clean Water Action, Commonweal, Consumer’s Union, County of Los Angeles, Environment California, Green California, Moms Making Our Milk Safe, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility LA, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, San Diego Coastkeeper, Service Employees International Union, Sierra Club California, Women’s Foundation of California and Zero Breast Cancer.

Organizations in opposition to the bill are: The American Chemistry Council, California Chamber of Commerce, California Grocers’ Association, Can Manufacturers Institute, Civil Justice Association of California, Grocery Manufacturers Association and International Formula Council.