Eight years ago, environmental organizations got a stern lesson from state lawmakers. Each organization — the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition and others — was pressing lawmakers to pass legislation on a variety of environmental issues.
Lawmakers said the environmental community would have much more clout — and a better chance of success — if the organizations banded together and set a handful of legislative priorities.
The Environmental Priorities Coalition, a network of 25 leading environmental groups in Washington state, was born. In a democratic process, taking all environmental issues into account, the coalition establishes priorities, then throws its collective weight behind passage of those limited items.
It has been successful with the strategy, from passage of Initiative 937, which requires electric utilities to invest in conservation and renewable sources of energy, to a $100 million appropriation to purchase land for parks, wildlife habitat and to save farms and shorelines. The coalition has made significant strides to clean up Puget Sound, to reduce air pollution and regulate flame retardants.
Given the multitude of environmental challenges, it’s a bit of a surprise that one of the three priorities of the environmental coalition this year is passage of a bill focused on plastic baby bottles.
But it’s an important piece of legislation that merits passage into law.
House Bill 1180 and Senate Bill 6248 would ban products made with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that is used to harden plastic. BPA is found in a wide variety of products and has been around for more than 40 years. Almost all Americans have some of BPA in their bodies.
BPA is used in baby bottles, reusable water bottles, tableware and storage containers. Its use is a concern because health studies have linked BPA to a variety of health consequences ranging from breast and colon cancer to reproductive effects and heart disease.
The Food and Drug Administration issued a preliminary assessment two years ago that BPA was safe. The National Toxicology Program took strong exception, pointing to numerous health studies to the contrary. Recently the federal agency changed course.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said there were reasons for consumers to be concerned about BPA. The Food and Drug Administration is spending $30 million over two years to study the health risks of BPA.
“At this time, we share the perspective of the (toxics coalition) of some concern of health effects of BPA,” Hamburg said. “This means we need to know more. In the interim, as a precaution, the FDA is taking reasonable steps to help reduce human exposure to BPA.”
And that’s why the environmental coalition in this state has stepped forward to press for a ban on BPA in baby bottles and food packaging for infants.
The House bill will prohibit the manufacture, sale or distribution of containers made with BPA which are designed to hold food and beverages primarily for children under 3 years of age. Also included are the hard plastic sports bottles which include BPA.
Manufacturers, retailers, or distributors who knowingly distribute products containing BPA in violation of the law would be subjected to a civil penalty of $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for subsequent offenses.
Senate Bill 6248 is more closely focused toward baby bottles and sippy cups for infants and toddlers and does not include sports bottles.
Opponents say there is no scientific evidence that BPA poses a serious health risk and that a ban will negatively affect businesses and put companies and employees out of work.
Supporters have the better argument. There are enough alternative sources available to consumers that there is no reason not to impose a ban on products containing BPA that are used for food and beverages for children.
Including sports bottles makes sense to help protect pregnant women and young children. That’s why the House bill, with its broader scope and focus on health, merits passage by the Legislature.