The delayed San Francisco ban on children's products made with bisphenol-A and phthalates now is not likely to be implemented for more than two years and initially will apply only to some phthalate-containing products for children under 3 years old.
The ban originally was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 but was delayed because of a lawsuit. A series of amendments - developed by the city's departments of environment and public health - would repeal the ban on products containing BPA. The amendments also would give the department of public health 18 months after the ordinance is revised to create a list of banned products containing phthalates and delay enforcement of that ban until six months after the list is developed.
The amendments are expected to be introduced at the Jan. 23 board of supervisors meeting by supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier. No final action is expected before the end of March. The proposed amendments, if enacted, would mean that products containing BPA - such as children's clothing, raincoats, shower curtains, food containers, shampoos, perfumes, beauty products and polycarbonate baby bottles - are not likely to be subject to any product bans.
City officials said they reserve the right to reconsider a BPA ban after Jan. 1 if the state does not take action to ban or significantly restrict the use of BPA in toys, child-care products and children's feeding products or bottles.
``We are pleased and encouraged that the city is reconsidering the ban on products that contain BPA,'' said Steve Hentges, executive director of the polycarbonate/BPA unit of the American Chemistry Council's plastics division in Arlington, Va. ``But we think they also ought to reconsider the phthalates ban.''
The about-face by the city - which plastics industry officials said caught them by surprise - stems not from the lawsuit filed by ACC and several other associations in October, but from internal departmental concerns expressed immediately after the ordinance's adoption in June over how the city would implement and enforce the original ordinance.
ACC has agreed to delay until March 12 its request before the Superior Court of California in San Francisco for a preliminary injunction to prevent the original ordinance from going into effect, in order to give the city time to enact the amendments.
``We had some issues relative to the feasibility and fair implementation of the ordinance, and sent the city recommendations to make this ordinance a more practical reality,'' said Rajiv Bhatia, medical director of occupational and environmental health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. ``We don't feel we have the resources and the ability to implement the current law.''
As Debbie Raphael, toxics reduction and green buildings program manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, explained: ``The departments were very supportive of the intent of the ordinance to protect children's health, but when we saw the ordinance, we were dismayed and confused as to how it could be implemented.
``We wanted to develop a practical system that is fair to retailers and fair to children,'' said Raphael. ``Hopefully, people will see this as a step forward because it outlines who has the authority and responsibility.''
According to Bhatia, city officials responsible for implementation believe that an incremental approach that starts with phthalates is more likely to achieve the intent of the original legislation. Bhatia said the city will look at products made with six types of phthalates that have been banned from use in children's products in the European Union.
``Legislators realize these changes are practical and would help make this legislation a success, even though it reduces the scope of the ordinance,'' said Bhatia. ``I have talked to environmental folks and people pushing the other way, and they all feel these are reasonable and practical changes.''
Bhatia said the two departments want to limit the scope of the legislation and focus on the highest-exposure group - children under 3 - and on products like bottles and pacifiers that contain phthalates and are likely to go into the mouth.
``We also need time to create a list of products and do whatever testing is needed to be reasonably sure that there are alternatives to the banned products and that they are safer than the ones they would replace,'' Bhatia added.
Although the city departments could opt to ban specific products one at a time, it is more likely that ``a whole fleet of items'' would be put on a ``don't buy'' or banned product list after the city's 18-month review, he said.
Westlund said supervisors support the proposed amendments for two reasons. ``I think they see that the intent of the legislation hasn't wavered at all,'' under these proposed amendments, he said. In addition, the changes still protect the health of children, but in a way that is fairer to retailers.
``I get the sense that one of the things members of the board of supervisors like about the proposed amendments are that they take the burden off local retailers'' to determine what products fall under the scope of the legislation, Westlund said.