Caution is the right reaction to chemical

Maybe you've seen the ad showing an empty shopping cart in the middle of the desert. "Soon, many common, everyday products could disappear from grocery store shelves all across California," it warns.

That would be pretty ominous, if it were true.

Which it is not.

The ad campaign by the American Chemistry Council is targeting a bill in Sacramento that would ban use of a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA, in products such as baby bottles and sippy cups used by children under 3.

The bill -- SB 1713, spearheaded by state Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) -- passed the Senate in May and is expected to come before the Assembly this week.

BPA helps make plastic stronger and helps prevent canned foods and beverages from spoiling.

The National Institutes of Health says there is "some concern" that exposing small children to BPA "can cause changes in behavior and the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland, and the age at which females attain puberty."

"Some concern" falls midway between "serious concern" and "negligible concern" on the agency's five-level scale.

"The possibility that bisphenol A may impact human development cannot be dismissed," the agency concluded.

Amid such concerns, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys R Us have announced they will phase out baby bottles containing BPA.

Nalgene, manufacturer of those ubiquitous water bottles used by hikers and athletes, also said it would eliminate BPA in its products.

"BPA can't be unharmful if industry is going out of its way to remove it," Migden told me. "These aren't charitably minded corporations. They're thinking about their bottom line."

Her legislation, she said, is intended to create a uniform safety standard in California so that all containers intended for kids are BPA-free.

That's not how the chemical industry sees it. The American Chemistry Council, the industry's leading trade group, has run ads in newspapers, online and on the radio denouncing Migden's bill as an all-out assault on consumer choice in the supermarket.

About half a dozen companies produce BPA in the United States, including Dow Chemical Co. and Bayer Corp.

"At a time of rising food prices, limiting consumer choice is unfair and unnecessary," the organization said in mailers to hundreds of thousands of California homes.

This is misleading.

Migden's bill would ban manufacturing, selling or distributing any commercial container "designed or intended to be filled with any liquid, food or beverage primarily for consumption from that container by infants or children 3 years of age or younger."

In other words, it wouldn't affect any product intended primarily for anyone over 3, which is nearly all products in supermarkets.

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