San Francisco Chronicle (pg. B1) [Printer-friendly version] June 3, 2006 SUPERVISORS TO CONSIDER BAN OF CERTAIN PLASTICS 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 measure. 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 bill. 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 cancer. 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.