The state just reached an important milestone in efforts to protect the health of our most vulnerable population – infants and young children.
Effective July 1, cups, bottles and containers used by children under age 3 can no longer be made, sold or distributed in this state, if they contain the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA).
The new restriction targets a plastic-hardening agent that has been shown through studies to mimic the hormone estrogen. It’s been linked to a number of health issues, including reproductive abnormalities, brain development, diabetes and prostate gland problems.
Infants and young children are believed to be most vulnerable to exposure to the chemical because their reproductive organs and ability to metabolize chemicals are still in the formative stages.
The 2011 deadline to phase out BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and cans or jars of infant food was spelled out in a hotly contested bill that passed the 2010 state Legislature and was signed into law.
Beginning on July 1, 2012, sports bottles up to 64 ounces containing BPA will also be banned.
These are important public health and consumer protection advances that take advantage of the best available science.
But one has to wonder why it took so long to restrict the use of BPA. Consider this:
In 1998, Washington State University biology professor Patricia Hunt was doing genetic studies on female mice when a rookie laboratory assistant got a little carried away cleaning the animals’ cages and water bottles.
Subsequently, Hunt detected abnormalities in the egg chromosomes of the mice. She traced it back to BPA, which had been released, then ingested by the mice after the assistant had scrubbed so hard with an abrasive detergent.
The discovery led Hunt on a path of research that helped reveal the potential ill health effects of the plasticizer and paved the way for the eventual passage of the 2010 legislation.
BPA has become somewhat ubiquitous since its development in the 1960s. It’s used in can linings to maintain a tight seal to keep food protected from bacteria. It’s used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins found in everything from compact discs to eyeglass lenses.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some 2.4 billion pounds of BPA was produced in 2007.
Food processors fear that canned goods may be targeted next.
The best thing they could do is step up efforts to find safer alternatives to BPA in the cans they package their foods.