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Ban unsafe chemical from baby bottles and cups

By Dianne Feinstein, Special to CNN
  • Dianne Feinstein: U.S. refuses to regulate BPA, influenced by chemical industry
  • Feinstein: Other nations ban BPA, which is linked to breast cancer, heart disease and more
  • BPA used in many products, including infant formula cans, sippy cups, bottles, she says
  • We must not expose children to a chemical known to disrupt the way hormones work, she says

Editor's note: Dianne Feinstein is California's senior senator.

(CNN) -- Last month, China banned companies from manufacturing, importing or selling baby bottles that contain bisphenol A (BPA), a potentially dangerous chemical routinely added to everyday plastic products.

China joins Canada, France, Denmark and the European Union in recognizing that this chemical is linked to a number of harmful health effects like breast cancer, heart disease, obesity, hyperactivity and other disorders.

Unfortunately, BPA is still routinely used in hundreds of consumer products sold in the United States.

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BPA became widely used in the manufacturing of plastics in the 1950s. Today, in addition to plastics, The chemical is used in countless consumer products, including the lining of canned food containers, cigarette filters, dental sealants, certain medical devices and the coating of the paper on cash register receipts. Recent studies have found that BPA leaches into canned foods -- particularly green beans -- from the lining of the can.

BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, which means it interferes with how hormones work in the body by blocking their normal function. This chemical is so widespread that it has actually been detected in the bodies of 93% of Americans.

2009: New fuel for BPA debate

While other countries have banned the use of BPA, the United States, driven by the powerful chemical industry, takes the opposite approach: refusing to regulate BPA until there is strong evidence to prove it is unsafe.

Despite a BPA investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency, and other numerous studies, the United States still does not have a nationwide ban of the chemical. Even though BPA has been linked to so many harmful health effects, it is still used in American products -- most notably in infant and children's feeding products.

Just this summer, the American Medical Association adopted a new policy recognizing that BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical and urged a ban on the sale of these products. The AMA also urges the development and use of safe alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans and other food can linings.

It wasn't long ago that we didn't have much information about plastics. We could easily pour some milk into a plastic bottle, heat it up in the microwave and not think twice. We now know that when plastic heats up, chemicals leach into the milk and are released into the body when the milk is consumed.

Infants and children, because of their smaller size and stage of development, are particularly at risk from the harmful health effects of BPA. But since BPA is not listed on food or drink labels, we have no way of knowing our daily exposure, or which products to avoid.

In fact, more than 200 studies link BPA exposure to breast and prostate cancer, cardiac disease, diabetes and early puberty.

There is no good reason this country should continue to expose our children to a chemical that is known to disrupt the way our hormones work when there are safe, BPA-free alternatives available for baby bottles, sippy cups, and baby food and infant formula packaging.

Companies have begun to phase out BPA. Sunoco has said it will refuse to sell the chemical without a guarantee that it will not be used in children's products. Eden Valley Organics now sells beans in BPA-free cans, and Walmart and Toys "R" Us no longer sell baby bottles containing the compound. At least 14 baby bottle manufacturers offer BPA-free alternatives or have banned the use of the chemical.

Eight states have already taken their own measures to ban BPA in some form, and pending the governor's signature, Delaware will become the ninth. Twelve more states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, South Dakota, Kentucky, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee and North Dakota) have considered bills on this issue. This is commendable.

See if your state has passed a ban on BPA

The next step is a change in federal law. A simple first step is to take action to protect the most vulnerable -- babies and children -- and get this chemical out of baby bottles, sippy cups, infant formula cans and baby food containers.

We must not use our kids as guinea pigs with a chemical that may seriously harm their health. Chemicals should not be used in food products until they are proven to be safe. I will continue to fight to keep BPA out of the products we use to feed our babies and children, and I've sponsored the Ban Poisonous Additives Act to support the effort.

Until BPA is proven to be absolutely harm-free to our kids, it should be banned from containers used for children. If China can do it, so can we.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dianne Feinstein.

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