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County should lead lawmakers to right conclusion

Bisphenol A (known as BPA) is a troublesome chemical compound used to manufacture rigid plastics found in reusable beverage containers, canned foods, computer keyboards and too many other products to mention.

And here's what you need to know: During the last Oregon legislative session, industry lobbyists convinced House Republicans to scuttle a bill that had passed muster with the Senate. That bill would have banned the sale of such things as infant milk bottles, sippy cups and reusable beverage containers manufactured with BPA as an additive.

The bill wisely didn't include items such as computer keyboards, because the reality is that BPA is so prevalent that an across-the-board ban would have brought commerce to a screeching halt.

In other words, the Senate bill would have only scratched the surface, but would have been a start at removing this chemical from the things Oregonians ingest.

That's significant because more and more scientific experts are reaching the conclusion that BPA represents a real health risk. What scientists say is that BPA mimics estrogen, allowing the chemical to bind to the same receptors throughout the human body as natural female hormones. Tests show the chemical promotes human breast cancer cell growth. The chemical also has been linked to prostate cancer and a variety of other health problems.

It's not at all surprising that lobbyists argued that scientific studies don't convincingly prove BPA is a human health hazard. (Remember the tobacco industry and its claims that scientists hadn't convincingly proven that tobacco is addictive?) Like we said, it's not surprising.

So, faced with an Oregon House that just finished a historic session of bipartisanship - the same House that killed this wise bill while divided along party lines - business interests are still free to distribute sippy cups and baby bottles in Oregon that contain this chemical.

Enter Multnomah County Commission Chairman Jeff Cogan, who wants to enact a countywide ban that replicates the Senate bill.

We think Cogan is on the right track. A work group is fast tracking a proposal that Cogan hopes to take before his fellow commissions for consideration.

We don't want to step too harshly on this timely and important proposal, but we are somewhat concerned about the idea of enacting regional policy on a subject that really ought to be handled at a statewide level.

This is an issue strikingly similar to the proposed statewide ban of plastic grocery bags. That was another measure that went nowhere in the Legislature, prompting the city of Portland to enact its own ban.

But these regional policies only serve to confuse merchants, distributors and consumers as rules change willy-nilly when people cross invisible city and county lines.

It's a foregone conclusion that BPA should be removed from products that people put in their mouths. Already some merchants are voluntarily removing these products from their shelves.

What we suggest is that Multnomah County should go ahead with removing from the marketplace the BPA-infused baby bottles, sippy cups and reusable beverage containers. Consumers really shouldn't have to wait for a do-nothing Legislature.

Though no date has been set for when this ban would go into affect, perhaps Multnomah County's significant influence would be what it takes to move the Legislature toward approval of a similar bill during its next session.

And Multnomah County's approval of this ban should be on the condition that it will fall in line with statewide rules once lawmakers figure out this is in the best interests of all Oregonians.