Senators Propose Ban on Chemical in Plastics

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Senate Democrats introduced a bill yesterday that would ban a controversial chemical found in plastics from all products made for infants and children up to age 7 and would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the health risks the chemical may pose to both children and adults.

"There have been enough warning signs about the dangers of this chemical that we cannot sit idly by and continue to allow vulnerable children and infants to be exposed," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). His bill to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, was co-sponsored by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.).

Schumer said he wants the CDC to weigh in because of conflicting scientific studies on BPA. A growing body of new studies has linked the chemical to prostate and breast cancers, diabetes, behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity, and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.

This month, the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, was the first federal agency to raise concerns about the effect of the chemical on fetuses, infants and children. "The report earlier this month was an eye-opener," Schumer said. "Now we want to get one final, indisputable ruling, once and for all, on the effects of BPA on adults, and pregnant women in particular."

But the chemical industry and the agencies that regulate the use of BPA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, have deemed the chemical safe.

The FDA's handling of BPA is being investigated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said he is concerned that the FDA based its safety rating on two studies, both funded by the chemical industry. More than 100 studies performed by government scientists and university laboratories have found health concerns associated with BPA; the industry-funded studies say it is safe.

Yesterday, Dingell expanded his investigation to include the Consumer Product Safety Commission. While the FDA regulates bottles and food containers, the commission oversees a range of other goods aimed at children that may contain BPA, such as utensils, dishes, toys, car seats and play yards.

Dingell has asked the commission if products it regulates contain BPA and what actions the commission has taken to protect the public health or warn consumers about possible hazards.

Spokeswoman Julie Vallese said the commission agrees with the FDA that the chemical is safe. She said her agency believes BPA poses the greatest health risk when it is comes into contact with food and drink and not in the types of products overseen by the commission. The agency studied rattles, teething rings and pacifiers in 2002 and found BPA in five of 133 plastics samples taken from those items, Vallese said. It has not studied whether the chemical is present in other products it regulates, she said.

BPA, in commercial use since the 1950s, is found in a wide variety of everyday items, including baby bottles, compact discs and automobiles. One federal study estimated the chemical is found in the urine of 93 percent of the population.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company