San Francisco Chronicle (pg. B1)  [Printer-friendly version]
June 3, 2006


2 chemicals target of ordinance meant to protect children

By Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer

San Francisco supervisors are set to adopt the nation's first ban on
some chemicals in plastic baby bottles, pacifiers and toys that may
harm young children, a move that comes after a similar measure failed
to pass in the California Legislature.

The measure is expected to be approved Tuesday, two weeks after
supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the Child Safety Product
Ordinance. It would take effect Dec. 1.

Under the proposed ordinance, no product that is intended for use by a
child under 3 years of age could be manufactured, sold or distributed
in San Francisco if it contains bisphenol A, or BPA, an ingredient in
hard, clear polycarbonate plastic. Some forms of phthalate, a chemical
that softens plastic, including polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, would also
be banned.

"We have a precautionary principle here in San Francisco. It says if
there's a possibility of harm or damage, then we should err on the
side of caution," Supervisor Fiona Ma, who wrote the ordinance, said
Friday. "The studies have shown that these toxic chemicals can cause
permanent harm to our young people."

Supervisors Sophie Maxwell and Michela Alioto-Pier co-authored the

The widely used industrial chemicals of bisphenol A and phthalates are
virtually unknown to the public. But in the last five years, studies
have indicated possible damage to the human reproductive system,
particularly if exposure occurs during early development. Scientists
at the forefront of laboratory animal experiments, as well as
environmental and consumer groups, are urging controls as a
precautionary measure.

At the same time, representatives of chemical manufacturers and
retailers argue that no state or federal agency has indicated there
are problems. The chemicals occur at levels too low to cause health
problems, and banning them would cause negative impacts on businesses,
they say.

The chemicals have been at the center of intense lobbying in the
Legislature for the past year as Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, D-Oakland,
tried and failed to pass a bill to keep them out of children's
products. The proposed San Francisco ordinance mirrors her original

Ma, a candidate for state Assembly, has promised to work on children's
safety issues if she is elected to fill the seat of outgoing
Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. In January, Yee voted against
the Chan bill in the Appropriations Committee, where it died by vote.

On Thursday, the American Chemistry Council, a trade group for
manufacturers, and the California Retailers Association, which oppose
the bans, wrote to Ma asking her to delay Tuesday's vote.

Tim Shestek, director of public affairs at the American Chemical
Council, said the Board of Supervisors should solicit comments from
all affected parties before making a final decision, given the impact
the measure could have on businesses that sell plastic toys and dolls,
baby bottles and drinking cups, pacifiers, safety gear, flotation
devices, bath toys, books and crib products.

Ma said Friday that the vote was expected to go forward. She and the
other supervisors have read and weighed the correspondence on all
sides, she said.

"We've all decided that this is something that is important. San
Francisco is never scared to be a leader," Ma said.

The ordinance, drafted by the city attorney's office, doesn't include
provisions for fines. The city's Environment Department would begin
educating retail stores about the law and the possible replacement by
safer products, and would ask for compliance. Penalties could be added
later, according to Ma's staff.

Baby bottles made of polycarbonate plastic are an obvious target of
the ordinance. They look like the hard, clear, sometimes tinted
Nalgene water bottles, also made of polycarbonate. The chemical is
also used in liners in metal food cans, microwave ovenware, epoxy
resin and as a coating in children's dental sealants.

Products containing phthalates include soft plastic PVC products such
as children's raincoats and hats, toys and plastic wrap.

If the law is approved, nonprofit groups plan to start testing baby
products if government agencies don't, said Rachel Gibson, an attorney
with Environmental California in San Francisco, which has lobbied for
both state and local bills. Her group worked with an independent lab
last year, which found detectable levels of phthalates in 15 out of 18
toys tested.

A laboratory study on rats, reported Wednesday in the journal Cancer
Research, provided the first evidence of a direct link between low
doses of bisphenol A and natural human estrogen exposures and cancer
of the prostate gland.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and the University of
Illinois at Chicago noted that bisphenol A was initially developed for
use as a synthetic estrogen before it was later used in products. So,
bisphenol A mimics the human body's natural estrogen, which alters the
function of the endocrine system and can raise the risk of developing

The scientists concluded that at low levels, bisphenol A can affect
the behavior of prostate genes and promote prostate disease in aging.

Bisphenol A leaches from food and beverage containers under normal
use, increasing with temperature and with aging, and from dental
sealants, the study said. It is found in humans -- and at higher
levels in placental and fetal tissue.

Copyright 2006 The Chronicle Publishing Co.