My son is two years old. There's a lot of things you learn when you have a baby. First, it's all about diapers. Then, it's about removing breakable objects. Lately, he mostly wants me to march around the house while he bangs on a drum. Good times.
But having a kid shouldn't mean that you have to worry that baby product manufacturers are selling products that are harmful to kids. If you buy something that's designed to be used by babies, it should be safe for babies.
And yet, unfortunately, there's no federal law - and no state law in Oregon - that prevents the use of Bisphenol-A in baby products. Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is an additive used in some plastic products to prevent degradation of the plastic. It's commonly used as an inside liner on plastic food and beverage containers.
There's growing scientific evidence that BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical, has harmful effects on fetuses and young children's brains, reproductive systems, pituitary glands, and behavior. Very low-level exposure to BPA during early stages of development is linked not only to developmental problems, but also to increased susceptibility to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Tomorrow, the Oregon Senate will vote on Senate Bill 1032 (pdf), a bill to ban Bisphenol-A from food and drink containers intended for children age three and under. Every legislator should support this overdue legislation.
Personally, I'd like to see them ban it from all food and drink containers. (After all, babies and toddlers eat lots of food that's not specifically intended for babies and toddlers -- applesauce, juice, yogurt, canned veggies, etc.)
But at a minimum, I think we can all agree that it makes no sense to expose these young bodies and brains to such a worrisome chemical. Is the proof of harm 100% rock-solid? No, of course not. Science is rarely that crystal clear.
But there's also no harm in removing it from our children's food supply. There are plenty of safe, inexpensive alternatives. (Japan has, for example, eliminated BPA almost entirely by using PET film instead.)
Legislators have an obligation to ensure that all children are safeguarded from potentially harmful chemicals, not just children with parents who have time to educate themselves about the myriad of products on the market. Every parent should be able to trust that if a product is for sale to children in a grocery store or a baby store, then it should be safe for those children.
Smart legislators will vote for SB 1032. It's the right thing to do, but it's entirely possible that it could become a political issue in upcoming campaigns. When our son was born, I had never heard of BPA. But hanging around with a bunch of new parents, I quickly learned about it - and this is a major worry with young families. (Legislators who don't have young children of their own would be smart to check in with some new parents -- they may be surprised how deep the concern runs about BPA. Entire businesses have been built to help parents avoid this chemical.)
Given a choice between protecting the health and well-being of Oregon children - and protecting a bunch of out-of-state (and overseas) chemical and plastics manufacturers - I think the choice is clear. You can imagine what the attack ads will look like for those who vote against the bill.
This also isn't about jobs. No one in Oregon produces BPA or the products affected by SB 1032.
Washington recently passed a similar bill with overwhelming majorities in both chambers and across party lines. (In the Washington House, the vote was 95-1.)
Oregon should do the same.
Update: Over at the OLCV blog, Jon Isaacs notes that the Bisphenol-A baby-bottle ban is an opportunity for a big bipartisan accomplishment, at a time when there's been a lot of partisan bickering and stonewalling. Noting that the Bisphenol-A bill is OLCV's "top priority", Isaacs writes:
I don’t think it’s possible for a public health issue to be any less controversial and straightforward to Oregonians than keeping toxic chemicals out of food containers intended for babies. ...
I know you’re asking, "What’s the catch?" There really isn’t a catch. We even worked with the grocers to craft the final language that clearly limits the scope of this bill to containers intended for children under the age of three.