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Chicago restricts chemical linked to cancer, other health issues

Thu., May 14, 2009

CHICAGO – The City Council’s vote Wednesday to make Chicago the first U.S. city to ban bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups is the latest act in a groundswell of public concern about a widely used chemical that has been linked to cancer, diabetes and other ailments.

With retailers and manufacturers already phasing out use of BPA, the unanimous vote is largely symbolic. But it adds the city to a growing list of states and countries moving to eliminate the chemical from household products, especially those made for infants and children.

Minnesota adopted a similar ban last week, and lawmakers in several other states are considering their own measures.

Chicago’s action puts it at odds with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which insists that the small amount of BPA in containers isn’t dangerous. Industry officials cited the FDA’s position when it tried to block the city’s measure this week.

But scientists increasingly are concerned that constant exposure to the chemical is harmful, even at low doses leaching from plastic. BPA has been found in 93 percent of Americans tested, with the highest levels in the youngest infants.

Responding to public pressure, many retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and CVS, already have vowed to stop selling bottles and containers made with BPA. Some manufacturers, including the nation’s leading baby bottle makers, also have started to market products labeled as “BPA-free.”

When the FDA ruled last summer that BPA is safe, it ignored advice from its scientific advisory board that urged the agency to rely on more than two studies financed by the chemical industry. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that entire sections of the FDA’s decision were written by manufacturers with a financial stake in BPA.

Hundreds of other studies have linked the chemical to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. The harmful effects appear to start early in life, when small doses of BPA, a synthetic estrogen, subtly wreak havoc on the developing bodies of fetuses and young children.

“The science is very clear: We can’t say this chemical is safe,” said Laura Vandenberg, a developmental biologist at Tufts University who has been studying BPA.


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