Caution is the right reaction to chemical

What it would affect, other than sippy cups and baby bottles, is cans of formula and the lids of baby-food jars, which are lined with BPA. And that's pretty much it.

The bill reiterates its age cutoff several times. But Migden amended the legislation last week to emphasize that it wouldn't apply to "food and beverage containers designed or intended primarily to contain liquid, food or beverages for consumption by the general population."

The chemical industry took this as a validation of its position.

"It shows that the bill was pretty vague," said Tim Shestek, director of California state affairs for the American Chemistry Council. "If we were overstepping in our ads, why did Sen. Migden amend the bill?"

Migden replied that she added the language to counter the organization's ads.

"I did it because the highly deceptive campaign made claims that the bill would impact the general population," she said. "I wanted to make clear that this isn't the case."

The chemical industry also questioned the science behind the legislation. Steve Hentges, who oversees BPA matters for the Chemistry Council and has a doctorate in chemistry, said it's easy for parents to be alarmed by the National Institutes of Health having "some concern" about the effect of BPA on kids.

"But that's different from their having 'serious concern,' " he said. "There's 'some concern' about everything."

Hentges pointed out that the European Food Safety Authority recently took a closer look at BPA and concluded that the chemical poses no threat to people, including kids. "In Europe, this isn't really a big deal," he said.

In Canada, on the other hand, it apparently is. In April, Canada became the first country to ban BPA from baby bottles.

"We have immediately taken action on bisphenol A because we believe it is our responsibility to ensure families, Canadians and our environment are not exposed to a potentially harmful chemical," Tony Clement, the Canadian minister of health, said in a statement.

In any case, this is the United States, not Europe or Canada. The fact that U.S. authorities have found at least some risk that BPA could be harmful to children should be sufficient reason to act.

Hentges said that although some manufacturers and retailers are moving away from BPA in bottles, it's not clear what chemical could replace BPA as a liner for formula cans and baby-food lids.

Migden said her bill would give businesses until 2012 to come up with something. The legislation specifies only that "the least toxic alternative" must be used, which would seem to provide plenty of wiggle room.

"If there's a good chance this is a harmful substance, would it not be the best course of action to eliminate it?" Migden asked.

Most parents already know the answer.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesday and Sunday. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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