Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

FDA flexes on BPA, says the chemical causes some concern

Still no ban, but after significant consumer and environmental-group pressure, and numerous public hearings, the federal Food and Drug Administration is issuing new guidelines for Bisphenol A. Cautious ones.

What are they worried about? Here's Linda Birnbaum - the head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:

There are critical periods of development when exposure to BPA may lead to certain health effects, including behavioral effects, diabetes, reproductive disorders, development of certain kinds of cancers, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and effects that can go from one generation to the next.

What makes this interesting is it harmonizes a couple of government agencies on the issue - and helps them sing a clearer song to consumers. This announcement puts FDA on the same page as the National Toxicology Panel which had found "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures" when the FDA was sounding a less cautious note a couple of years ago.

SInce then, California environmental groups (and plenty of others) organized mothers. Some manufacturers cut polycarbonate bottles out entirely - others got a boost in sales as they marketed stainless steel and glass and non-BPA plastics as alternatives. Using stimulus funds the NIH expanded BPA research. Just one state banned BPA...and that state was Minnesota.

So now we're supposed to take reasonable steps to avoid the chemical BPA now. A chemical that's long been in plastic bags and plastic bottles. Heck, a chemical we're looking for in mussels. What ARE reasonable steps?

•You can make a searching and thorough moral inventory of...your pantry. Chuck out scratched baby bottles and sippy cups; toss all plastic food containers with scratches. Ziplocs, I'm looking at you. Of course in LA you may be able to recycle 'em.
•Parents can find more from the Department of Health and Human Services here, and again, FDA stopped short of these recommendations, but generally: don't heat ANY baby bottle in a microwave. In fact, check before you put anything in the dishwasher or the microwave to make sure it can go in the dishwasher or the microwave.

BPA is one chemical that's opened up a Pandora's box of consumer concerns and policy consequences. In California, policymakers and academics point to it as an example of what can happen with some of the thousands of chemicals now making their way through people's lives. That's why the state has a Green Chemistry Initiative.