Yesterday, California officially placed bisphenol A (BPA) on its list of chemicals known to cause reproductive harm (California's "Proposition 65" list). The listing does not ban BPA, but could result in warnings on consumer products which contain the chemical. BPA is a toxic chemical found in plastic products, canned food and beverages, and paper receipts.
The State acted on the unanimous May 7 recommendation of its designated scientific expert panel to list BPA as a chemical that is clearly shown to harm women's reproductive health, despite strong chemical industry opposition orchestrated by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the main industry lobbying group, that refuses to acknowledge that this chemical is not safe. As panel members noted, the chemical industry continues to rely almost exclusively on outdated methods to assess harmful effects and fails to grapple with the latest science and methodologies. The State's experts looked past industry attempts to manufacture doubt, and followed the extensive literature showing BPA's harmful effects.
The experts' recommendation is based on their review of substantial new research, summarized in a recently published review, which evaluated the many studies finding a long list of adverse health effects associated with BPA. The review, conducted by nearly a dozen scientists, concluded that there was strong evidence that BPA can cause harm to the reproductive system and exposure to BPA is involved in reproductive diseases. NRDC and its partners submitted substantial comments strongly supporting the listing of BPA as a chemical known to cause reproductive harm.
We applaud the State and the scientific panel for recognizing BPA's adverse effects on women's reproductive health. But there is much that remains to be done. The next step in the process is for the State to decide which products will need warnings labels. We can be sure that industry will be arguing for as little labeling as possible, and it will require continued engagement from the public health community.
We hope the State will move as quickly as possible on the regulatory process for warning labels. The labels provide critical information for consumers and can be powerful motivators for manufacturers. By notifying consumers about the presence of harmful chemicals in products, the warnings allow consumers to make more informed choices when shopping. It also creates incentives for manufacturers to remove the harmful chemical from the product--in the past, many manufacturers have done exactly that. And California is often an important leader on these issues--warnings in California can translate into labels elsewhere and improvements to products usually mean improvements across the country because manufacturers don't typically manufacture separate lines of products for different states.
In the longer term, California must also do more to ensure the safety of "BPA-free" products - to respond to new science which shows that the chemicals used as replacements for BPA may pose similar health risks. But right now, it's time to appreciate the listing. It is an important step forward in protecting public health.