By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009
The six largest manufacturers of baby bottles will stop selling bottles in the United States made with bisphenol A, a controversial chemical widely used in plastics but increasingly linked to a range of health effects.
The manufacturers declared their intentions after Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, joined by the attorneys general in Connecticut and New Jersey, wrote to the bottle makers and asked them to voluntarily stop using the chemical.
"The evidence seems too clear and emphatic and unequivocal to say we should simply permit this stuff to go into children on a massive scale," Blumenthal said yesterday. "And there's no reason for it, because there are substitutes available."
Bisphenol A, in commercial use since the 1950s, is found in a wide variety of everyday items, including plastic beverage containers, eyeglasses and compact discs. It is ubiquitous: One recent federal study estimated that the chemical is found in the urine of 93 percent of the U.S. population.
Commonly called BPA, the chemical mimics the hormone estrogen and may disrupt the body's endocrine system. Public health advocates say it poses a particular danger to fetuses, infants and children because BPA can interfere with cell function at a point when their bodies are still developing.
Over the past decade, more than 130 studies have linked BPA to breast cancer, obesity and other disorders. In September, the study of BPA in humans found adults with higher levels of bisphenol A had elevated rates of heart disease, diabetes and liver abnormalities. Last year, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine linked BPA to problems with brain function and mood disorders in monkeys.
Much of the new research suggests that BPA has an effect at very low doses -- lower than the current safety standard set by the Food and Drug Administration. The most prominent finding was by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, which reported last year that there is "some concern" BPA may affect the brain and behavioral development of fetuses, infants and young children.
The FDA has maintained that BPA is safe, relying largely on two studies that were funded by the chemical industry. In October, the agency was faulted by its own panel of independent science advisers, who said the FDA's position on BPA was scientifically flawed. As a result, the agency is revisiting its position on the chemical.
The American Chemistry Council, an industry group that represents companies that make BPA, yesterday repeated the FDA's position that BPA is safe at current levels in food bottles and containers.
Consumer concern about the chemical has placed increasing pressure on manufacturers and retailers. Late last year, Babies R Us and other major retailers told suppliers they would no longer stock baby bottles made with BPA.
Several bottle makers contacted by Blumenthal said they were already ridding their product lines of the chemical.
"We made a business decision to move out of BPA," said Shannon Jenest of Philips Avent, which is number one in U.S. dollar sales of baby bottles.
Philips Avent stopped selling baby products with BPA on Dec. 31 in North America but continues to market them overseas, she said. "We felt like we had hit a tipping point with our consumers and with our retailers," Jenest said. "Babies R Us was banning it, Target was going to, CVS was going to, and so the distribution channels were lessening and lessening."
Blumenthal said he is gathering support from other attorneys general to demand that manufacturers take BPA out of infant formula cans and all food and beverage containers.
Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, said the states are acting because the federal government has refused to do so. "Today's deal underscores the need for the Congress and the Obama administration to overhaul federal chemicals policy to protect infants and children from exposures to toxic chemicals," Wiles said. "When the public is forced to rely on state actions to achieve nationwide protections, we know the federal system is broken."