The city of San Francisco's board of supervisors voted June 6 to ban the sale, manufacture or distribution of polycarbonate baby bottles containing bisphenol A, as well as pacifiers, toys and children's raincoats containing some phthalates.
While the decision is a blow to a handful of PC and PVC products, industry representatives said it could have repercussions far beyond the city's boundaries.
The ordinance, if approved by Mayor Gavin Newsom, would go into effect Dec. 1 and be the first ban in the United States of products containing BPA and phthalates, giving environmentalists leverage in their battle to get some chemicals used in plastics production banned.
Bill Barnes, an administrative aide to the bill's chief sponsor, supervisor Fiona Ma, said the board has enough votes to override any mayoral veto.
A similar measure was rejected in January by the California Legislature.
The ban would apply only to products intended for children under the age of 3.
``It seems unusual to pass a bill with a very scientific component without soliciting any scientific input,'' said Steven G. Hentges, executive director of the PC business unit of the Arlington, Va.-based American Plastics Council.
The board did not solicit input in passing the bill, either before its first vote of approval May 23 or the one June 6, he said. Two votes of approval are required for a measure to become law in San Francisco.
``Science does not support the ban on these products,'' said Hentges. ``If you look at the weight of evidence together, there is no evidence of harmful effects.''
Governmental bodies globally - the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission - all have deemed BPA not harmful in the past three years.
``Public policy should be based on sound, credible scientific evidence,'' added Tim Shestek, director of state and local public affairs in the Sacramento, Calif., office of the Arlington-based American Chemistry Council. ``The ordinance ... falls short of this standard.''
ACC, the California Retailers Association, the California Grocers Association and the Toy Industry Association all had asked the board to postpone the vote to consider scientific evidence on whether BPA constitutes a health hazard.
But Barnes said the supervisors had reviewed the materials presented to state legislatures, ``discussed the issues in length'' and taken action based on the San Francisco ``precautionary principle.''
That rule, adopted three years ago, requires the board to take action if there is a chance of harm.
``When there is disagreement, we have to default toward protecting health,'' Barnes said.
The San Francisco ordinance has no provision for fines.
``The ordinance is about encouraging compliance first,'' said Barnes, and speeding the development of what he called ``safer plastics'' for the products in question.
ACC and other associations said they had not explored their options, but a source said the measure could be appealed to the Superior Court of California in San Francisco or a referendum could be placed on the ballot asking voters to overturn the ruling.
``We think this is an overreaction,'' Shestek said. ``They are ignoring a body of evidence'' that products made from BPA and phthalates are safe ``and assuming that the chemicals used instead'' to make those products ``will be safer.''
For example, FDA said last year that, ``based on all the evidence available at this time, the FDA sees no reason to change its long-held position that current uses [of BPA] are safe and products made from BPA are approved for use in food packaging.''
A study in the journal Cancer Research earlier this month suggested links between exposure to BPA and prostate cancer in men. But Hentges pointed out that the exposure levels in the study are ``100-1,000 times higher than levels established by governmental bodies as still being safe.''
In addition, Hentges said BPA was injected into the rats used in the study, which means the test is not an accurate indication of how humans are exposed to BPA.
``When people are exposed to BPA, it is metabolized as it goes through the intestine and liver and it becomes a biologically inactive metabolite,'' he said.