No responsible parent would expose their infant to cigarette smoke or car exhaust. But every day in America, millions of infants are exposed to dangerous chemicals hiding in plain view. This exposure can lead to a wide range of adverse health effects later in life -- from increased cancer risk to infertility.
This chemical is called BPA -- short for bisphenol A, a key component of plastics --and it is found everywhere in modern life.
BPA lines the cans of soup on your pantry shelf, and the soft drink cans in your refrigerator. This compound is also in baby bottles, water bottles, plastic containers and countless other everyday food and beverage containers.
And that's a big problem. BPA leaches into food products and beverages, especially when heated in plastic containers. Moreover, a growing body of scientific evidence shows that exposure to this chemical, at very low levels, may be dangerous for humans - especially during prenatal development and early infancy.
Nearly 200 scientific studies show that exposures to low doses of BPA, particularly during pregnancy and early infancy, are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects later in life.
Increased risk of breast and prostate cancer. Genital abnormalities in male babies. Infertility in men. Early puberty in girls. Type-2 diabetes. Obesity. These are just some of the health problems now being linked to BPA exposure.
One survey, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated that 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine.
Another study, published in September 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found significant links between exposure to high levels of BPA and a variety of ailments and abnormalities, including diabetes, heart disease, and high liver enzyme levels.
Last year the National Toxicology Program, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, reported "some concern" that BPA may affect neural development in fetuses, infants and children at current levels of exposure.
Despite the growing evidence, the Food and Drug Administration last year claimed that BPA is safe. But an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that lobbyists for the chemical industry wrote significant parts of the FDA's assessment.
On top of that, the agency's own panel of outside scientific advisors questioned the FDA's findings, and now the agency is reassessing its position on BPA.
New findings from the FDA are expected any day now. But states, local governments and private corporations are not waiting around.
Connecticut and Minnesota, and the city of Chicago, have restricted the use of BPA. The government of Canada has banned the chemical outright in all baby bottles.
Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us will no longer sell baby bottles containing the compound.
In March, six U.S. manufacturers of baby bottles announced they will no longer use the chemical in their products.
Also in March, Sunoco, the large American petroleum and petrochemical manufacturer, announced it would no longer sell BPA without guarantees it will not be used to manufacture baby bottles.
The writing is on the wall.
Yet despite the growing patchwork of restrictions, and the laudable moves by industry to clamp down on its use, there today are no federal curbs.
We must wait no longer. That's why earlier this year I introduced the Ban Poisonous Additives (BPA) Act of 2009, which would eliminate the use of BPA from all food and beverage containers.
This legislation would:
- Ban the sale of reusable beverage containers (including baby bottles and thermoses) that contain BPA.
- Prohibit the use of other food and beverage containers (including canned foods and baby formula) from being introduced into commerce.
- Provide for renewable one-year waivers for manufacturers that can show the FDA that there is no technology allowing the manufacture of a particular product without the use of BPA.