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State bans bottles and cups with BPA

Ruling doesn’t go far enough, activists say

By Elizabeth Cooney
Globe Correspondent / December 16, 2010

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The Massachusetts Public Health Council voted unanimously yesterday to ban the sale and manufacture of baby bottles and sipping cups containing the chemical BPA, but turned aside a push by environmental activists for more sweeping restrictions on use of the chemical linked to possible health risks in children.

Bisphenol A is used in a wide variety of products, including plastic bottles, children’s sipping cups, and the lining of canned food containers. Children and adults can ingest tiny amounts of BPA when they drink or eat from the containers, and studies of laboratory animals have suggested that the chemical could cause developmental problems for children if they are exposed to small quantities early in life.

Last year the state Department of Public Health warned parents of young children not to store infant formula or breast milk in plastic bottles containing the chemical and urged pregnant or breast-feeding women to avoid using food and drink containers made with it.

The US Food and Drug Administration has said there is some concern that the chemical could be harmful to children, and the federal government has launched a $30 million study of its health effects. Results are not expected until 2012.

The new state ban targets bottles and cups likely to be used by children 3 years old and under. It will take effect Jan. 1 for manufacturers and July 1 for retailers. There are no makers of these baby products in the state, but council member Paul Lanzikos suggested that the new date, earlier than the proposed date of April 1, as a symbol of the seriousness of the issue. To enforce the regulation, the state will conduct spot checks at stores and test any bottles or cups suspected to contain the chemical.

Environmental activists had urged a more comprehensive ban that included containers in which baby formula and food is sold, as well as anything a child could eat or chew on. They were disappointed after the vote.

“This regulation is a wholly inadequate response from the Patrick administration and will do little to protect children’s health,’’ Elizabeth Saunders, legislative director of Clean Water Action, said in a statement. “Manufacturers have largely removed BPA baby bottles and cups from the marketplace. This is a missed opportunity.’’

But Department of Public Health specialists said they presented a ban based on what science has shown about possible harms.

“The Public Health Council is convinced that the scientific evidence is strong about the health impacts for infants and young children,’’ Geoffrey Wilkinson, senior policy adviser to the public health commissioner, told the council, an appointed panel of doctors, disease trackers, and consumer advocates.

“This is clearly a limited ban, and we know that this is much farther than industry would have preferred that the state go at this time,’’ Wilkinson said. “But it’s nowhere near as far as public health and environmental health advocates wanted the state to go. We think it is important to look at the research and to wait before considering further steps until research that is under way is reported.’’

Seven other states regulate the chemical, including Connecticut, whose ban also covers baby formula containers.

To critics who contend that bottles and sipping cups that contain the chemical have already been removed from store shelves, Wilkinson said that that may be true at large retail outlets, but is not necessarily the case at smaller stores in poorer neighborhoods.

“This really extends the protection as a matter of policy, so it provides equal protection and addresses disparities that we are concerned may exist,’’ he said in an interview.

Elizabeth Cooney can be reached at ecooney@globe.com.