Sippy cupNorthwest lawmakers finally appear swayed by the mounting evidence showing that bisphenol A, or BPA, is a threat to human health and that its use should be curtailed. BPA is a key ingredient in hard, clear, glasslike plastics, such as baby bottles.

Oregon lawmakers today began considering a ban on BPA in products used by children under the age of three, including baby bottles and sippy cups and the lining of baby-food containers.

Washington lawmakers are pursuing a similar BPA ban. The Senate last week approved a bill barring BPA in kid’s food items alone, while a measure approved by the House also included a ban on BPA in sports bottles. Now all the two chambers have to do is reconcile their differences. (Governor Gregoire is expected to sign the bill.)

Canada last year decided to ban BPA. The government is considering further ways to limit its use.

Oregon and Washington both have pursued limits on BPA in the past. So what’s changed in 2010? In January, the US Food and Drug Administration reversed its stance that BPA was safe to people at current levels of exposure. It now has adopted an opinion in line with the National Toxicology Program (a division of the National Institutes of Health).

The National Toxicology Program way back in September 2008 ruled that there was reason to be concerned about BPA harming human health—namely people’s behavior, brain, and prostate gland—and particularly when it came to exposure to fetuses, babies, and children. Other research links early exposure to the chemical with obesity and reproductive problems later in life.

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  • One has to wonder how the FDA with a straight face could have ever ruled that BPA was safe for kids—the danged chemical has been used as synthetic estrogen since the 1930s. (Check out this great Scientific American story on how Patricia Hunt, a scientist at Washington State University, accidentally identified one of the ways that BPA messes with hormones.)

    And while there’s particular concern over BPA’s effect on babies and children, it’s believed to do not-nice things to grownups too. The chemical is linked to heart disease and Type II diabetes. It could be making chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer less effective. The list goes on.

    So while Northwest lawmakers debate a ban on bisphenol A, what can a concerned person do to reduce exposure? It’s tough. BPA is ubiquitous. It’s used to make polycarbonate—the hard clear plastic. It turns up in eye glasses, compact discs, the lining of food containers, dental sealants, toys, and countless other items. And those recycling symbols on the bottom of some plastic items won’t necessarily help guide you to a safe alternative. BPA falls into the “other” category, which is denoted by the number 7 recycling symbol—the same symbol that covers biodegradable, plant-based plastics.

    But more help is potentially on the horizon. Lisa Jackson, chief of the EPA, announced in September that she’d try to crack down on toxic chemicals found in everyday products. But while the FDA now acknowledges that BPA is a problem, the agency claims it’s unable to regulate it for some technical reasons.

    If you want to track the legislation in Oregon and Washington and get in touch with lawmakers, information on the bills can be found below. Note that Oregon senators had a hearing on the bill today and are expected to vote in committee some time next week.

    Sippy cup photo courtesy of Flickr user seandreilinger under a Creative Commons license.