By Sarah Blenner, JD, MPH
Bisphenol A (BPA), the controversial, toxic chemical found in many plastic food containers, is once again making headlines. BPA is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that is used to make polycarbonate plastics. Hundreds of studies have linked BPA to a variety of adverse health conditions, such as diabetes, insulin dependency, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, hyperactivity, ADHD, autism, early onset of puberty, cardiovascular disease and liver enzyme abnormalities.
In January, Julie Burger argued that “the time to act is now.” Leading scientists state that the potential health risks of BPA are too significant and the FDA’s determination that BPA is “safe” is simply the chemical industry’s creation of “manufactured doubt.” With hundreds of studies linking BPA to adverse health conditions, the FDA relied solely on a limited number of studies funded by the chemical industry that showed “no harm.”
BPA can be found in baby bottles and sippy cups and poses a threat to the children who drink or eat from these types of containers. Children, especially those under the age of three, are at the highest risk for exposure because these young children lack the liver enzymes that can render BPA non-toxic. As a result, when BPA is ingested it goes straight to the bloodstream, accumulates, and may lead to serious health conditions. Banning the sale of empty food and liquid containers intended for the use of children under the age of three will protect those in our community that are at the highest risk of BPA accumulation in the bloodstream, and thus we will limit the amount of toxic chemicals that we infuse into their developing bodies.
The Chicago City Council began discussing the potential health risks of BPA to children when the “BPA-Free Kids” ordinance, sponsored by Alderman Burke and Alderman Flores, was introduced to City Council last February. At the time, the FDA issued a position statement, claiming that it planned to conduct studies in its laboratories to determine the actual health impact of BPA. Rather than passing the ordinance, City Council subsequently passed a Resolution stating that “if the FDA does not take appropriate action by April 30, 2009, this municipal legislative body will aggressively pursue the pending ordinance sponsored by Alderman Burke and Alderman Flores.”
The time has arrived. Seeing as the FDA has not taken action, Alderman Burke and Alderman Flores reintroduced the BPA-Free Kids Ordinance at the joint committee on finance and consumer protection on May 11. BPA-Free Kids will be voted on at the full City Council as early as Wednesday, May 13. If passed, the legislation would ban the sale of baby bottles and sippy cups that contain BPA in the city of Chicago.
If passed, Chicago will also be a pioneer in the effort to protect children from baby bottles containing BPA. Although introduced at the federal level and in at least a dozen states (including Illinois), there are only two jurisdictions in the U.S. that have taken action. On Friday, May 9, Minnesota became the first state to enact legislation banning the sale of baby bottles with BPA and Suffolk County, New York, has also taken steps to ban the sale of products containing BPA.
According to Dr. Gail Prins, a physiology professor at the University of Chicago who has conducted research on BPA’s adverse effects, “the body of evidence that documents harmful effects of BPA at low doses–doses very similar to what is found in humans–is very compelling when examined as a whole…To ignore scientific data any longer will be seen as negligence.”
Editor’s Note: Since this blog was published, the Chicago City Council voted on and unanimously passed the municipal ban on the sale of baby bottles and cups containing BPA. For more information please see this article published online Wednesday, May 13, 2009 by The New York Times.
Sarah Blenner is a second year law student at Chicago-Kent College
of Law and a first year public health student at University of Illinois
at Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Arts with high honors from
Emory University in May 2007, where she studied Jewish Studies and
Anthropology. Sarah has been a research assistant at the Institute for
Science, Law and Technology since May 2008 and has also worked for the
Chicago-Kent Health and Disability Law Clinic. Her interests lie in
the intersection between health, religion, and the law.