Jeff Cogen's proposal to ban or limit the sale of products containing Bisphenol A (known as BPA) in Multnomah County may open up county government to accusations that it is employing 'nanny state' tactics. However, if a nanny's role is to protect children, then we would argue that there often is a place for such caretakers - even in local government.
At the same time, we also would caution against the county chair going too far with an all-out BPA ban. The substance is so prevalent that banning it altogether would be impossible at the local level. Plus, this really is an issue that ought to be regulated by the state, rather than on a county-by-county or city-by-city basis. A hodgepodge of local BPA laws would make it difficult for manufacturers, distributors and stores to manage their products to comply with a variety of conflicting ordinances.
Cogen's action, though, follows the failure of the 2011 Oregon Legislature to approve just such a statewide solution. During the past 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 infant milk bottles, sippy cups and reusable beverage containers that are manufactured with BPA as an additive.
The bill wisely didn't include other items that contain BPA, such as computer keyboards or canned goods. But the legislation would have been a start at removing this chemical from some of the things that Oregonians - and especially children - ingest. That worthy objective, however, got sidetracked in the House, which means Oregon's young children - who have no choice in the matter - are still exposed to BPA in sippy cups and baby bottles.
Plenty of evidence suggests that BPA represents a health risk. Scientists say BPA mimics estrogen, allowing the chemical to bind to the same receptors throughout the human body as natural female hormones. Tests show that 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 nearly a foregone conclusion that BPA should be eliminated from products that people put in their mouths. Already, some merchants are voluntarily removing these products from their shelves.
Against this health concern, Cogen's initiative to ban certain BPA-infused items makes sense. But our greater hope is that a local ordinance in a county as large as Multnomah will increase the pressure on the Legislature to do what is right for children.
Multnomah County should move ahead with a limited BPA ban, but it also should be prepared to fall into line with any eventual statewide law.
If legislators don't want to see a jumble of local BPA regulations put into effect, they should take up the BPA bill again in February 2012 - and this time they should complete the job.