Industry’s Last Gasp Efforts to Stop Regulation of Toxic Chemical

Posted on 26 September 2011

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By Bill Allayaud
Environmental Working Group

Health advocates are waiting to see if Governor Brown will sign Assemblymember Betsy Butler’s AB 1319 that would ban the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, from baby bottles and sippy cups. Consumer Union’s Elisa Odabashian’s editorial at this site (September 22, 2011) laid out the basic facts about the known health effects of BPA and that the medical community has come around in calling for it to be removed from baby products. But while we are hopeful the Governor will sign the bill, nothing is assured given the amount of money the chemical industry is willing to spend to keep the cash-cow chemical BPA as unregulated as possible. 

Readers should know a bit more about how the industry operates in the halls of the Capitol to protect their financial interests. Borrowing a page out of the tobacco industry’s multi-decade playbook, a hallmark of their lobbying drive over the last five years is to claim that the science against BPA is not conclusive and is a case of “dueling science,” with just as many studies showing the chemical to be safe as harmful. This is pure hogwash because low dose studies showing harmful effects now stand at about 9 to 1 against BPA.  But, this can be an effective tactic in the Capitol because many legislators say they that because they are not scientists, they should not be required to make a judgment about banning a chemical.

As some of their colleagues point out, this line of reasoning is defective because legislators are constantly voting on bills about technical issues that they are not expert in, including measures about fishing limits, tax increment financing, details about medical insurance, and the like. Yet, the industry knows this is a compelling argument to some legislators, so they claim with a straight face that the science is equal on both sides.

And let it be known that just about every week, a new study comes out further damning this chemical. Last week, researchers reported that BPA interferes with the work that anti-cancer drugs are supposed to do to fight breast cancer. This is related to the estrogenic and endocrine-disrupting effects of BPA in the body and why experts have been shouting out warnings for many years. Meanwhile, the millions of dollars spent for lobbying by industry seems to work, as federal regulators keep delaying any new assessments.  

The chemical industry tried a last-minute ploy to kill AB 1319 on the Senate floor by floating amendments that, if inserted, would certainly mean the death of the bill by requiring a referral back to a policy committee or by guaranteeing a veto if it survived the committees and the floor votes. Senator Ron Calderon circulated the amendments for the chemical companies, the main feature of which was a clause that allowed the industry to claim that they had no responsibility for any BPA in a baby bottle if it was not “intentionally” added. This of course, would blow a wide hole in all consumer protection law, and Assemblymember Butler immediately rejected Senator Calderon’s play.  Moreover, the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee rejected this very amendment back in April. But, again, the industry seems like they will do just about anything to defeat any attempt to regulate BPA down to safe levels.

We understand that the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s (DTSC) support of the bill has also got the chemical folks agitated, to say the least. A key part of DTSC’s position is that they acknowledge that it may be prudent for the Legislature to take action on a chemical or consumer product before the Green Chemistry program is finalized.  While this is exactly what the two legislative “fathers” of the Green Chemistry program (Assemblymember Mike Feuer and Senator Joe Simitian) have been saying the last couple of years, the industry is upset that DTSC sees it that way too. With a robust Green Chemistry program likely years away, should the Legislature sit on its hands when there is firm scientific evidence of negative health effects in a consumer product and there are safer alternatives to that product?  We don’t think so, and neither does DTSC.

The many supporters of the bill agree – if government regulators, in this case the federal Food and Drug Administration, are going to take years and years to rid consumer products of a known toxic chemical, the State of California needs to take action sooner than later. That is why AB 1319 is widely supported by medical groups for the first time.  We have alternatives to BPA-laden bottles and it’s time to push the last harmful ones off the shelves of all California stores. We trust that Governor Brown will see that there is strong science in support of AB 1319 and will take action to protect consumers, in this case, our little children. 


Bill Allayaud is the California Director of Governmental Affairs of the Environmental Working Group, which uses the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.

Something needs to be done to deal with this issue once and for all. Industrial workers handling BPA have to pay higher funeral insurance premiums, so clearly the private sector is once again ahead of the game on this one.