And for today's jeopardy: Who is the U.S Trade Representative to China and why did he meddle with Maryland's proposed healthy toy bill? What percentage of Wal-Mart products are made in China? (hint: 70%) Why do we still believe that a little bit of toxins are ok for babies? Who would jettison baby health for a $700,000/hour market for a chemical? What does it mean to be "free" of something ? (in this case to be BPA free)?
In Washington State, we just botched a prime opportunity to ban Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles. BPA, an endocrine disruptor-- the regulator for your entire body-- is bad juju for pregnant women, babies in utero and infants... at teensy weensy levels measured in parts per billion. The bad juju is heart disease, diabetes, cancer and metabolic disorders. Both Wal-Mart and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) arrived in our mossy spring to just add a few "touch ups" to Washington's now buried Safe Baby Bottle Bill.
Enter (tada....) doubt and uncertainty, the playing card which routinely kills good public health policy, and the black labyrinth called risk assessment where industry and independent scientists duke it out in a dizzying mosh pit.
Last year, Wal-Mart received kudos worldwide for announcing its intention to pull baby products containing BPA from its shelves. Even the investors noticed. But this year, the lawyers noticed as well, bringing a class action lawsuit (opens PDF) against the top four polycarbonate plastic bottle manufacturers for using BPA. Ouch.
The puzzle is why did Wal-Mart submit an amendment to the Washington State legislature to permit what's called a "de minimus" (teensy weensy) amount of BPA in baby bottles that is thousands of times higher than levels where we see adverse health effects? Does it have anything to do with the fact that 70% of their products are manufactured in China where chemical policy might not be in the forefront of manufacturing priorities? Safer alternatives are available and they are being used in the market but Wal-Mart and the ACC will step in to set "safe" limits where the feds left a continent-sized hole.
This story traces back to the massive federal regulatory failure when the National Toxicology Program (Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction) hired a company that had a Hummer-sized conflict of interest to run the risk assessment for BPA. They based their entire risk assessment on two industry-sponsored studies that found BPA ok at particular levels but decided to ignore 98 other independent studies that found to the contrary. Oops. Oh well, they got fired anyhow under intense pressure from smart scientists and people with good values.
Federal Government: F
Parents: Going Nuts
So, what is a parent to do? There's a plethora of great resources out there including
choosing safer baby products, the Smart Plastics Guide for food products (opens PDF), and a broader coalition of parents sick of trashing kids for commercial values. Go find your de minimus... of sickening trade-offs.