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BPA product ban protects our children

Two Views • County's BPA ban stirs up a cauldron of concern
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT 
Renee Hackenmiller-Paradis, environmental health program director for the Oregon Environmental Council, spots some sippy cups at a Southeast Portland Dollar Tree store that she suspects contain BPA, which many studies indicate is a health hazard but is disputed by some experts.

Protecting community health is one of Multnomah County's most important roles - it's part of our core mission - and it's a responsibility I take very seriously as chair of the Board of Commissioners.

It's with that responsibility in mind that I unveiled a proposal Tuesday to respond to health concerns raised in multiple research studies on the industrial chemical compound Bisphenol A (BPA), widely used in plastic containers.

Our carefully tailored proposal would ban the use of Bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups, as well as in reusable containers such as sport bottles and thermoses. There are readily available Bisphenol A-free alternatives for all of them.

Despite the spin that well-funded special interest campaigns rely on in an attempt to delay action, the facts are that studies have repeatedly shown legitimate health concerns about Bisphenol A.

Bisphenol A is a known endocrine disrupter and carcinogen. Independent, non-industry funded research has linked Bisphenol A to reproductive problems, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, and liver abnormalities.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration raised concerns about the potential effects of Bisphenol A on brain and prostate gland development in fetuses, infants and young children.

It would be irresponsible for our community to ignore that body of independent research, just as concerns years ago about products like tobacco should not have been ignored, especially when dealing with exposing infants and children to toxic chemicals.

Exposure to Bisphenol A represents a health equity issue as well as a public health issue. In cities, poorer families and families of color often rely on smaller stores that studies show are the most likely to carry products like sippy cups and baby bottles made with Bisphenol-A .

That's what has led nearly a dozen states, including Washington and California, to limit the use of Bisphenol A. Why should our children be the only ones on the West Coast drinking from sippy cups made with Bisphenol A?

Big-bucks special interests have killed statewide action around the country, including here in Oregon. But some counties have responded by enacting local Bisphenol A restrictions. And in New York, the counties' action led to action at the state level. That's one of the benefits of local action: it can spark broader action.

I know - based on what has happened elsewhere - that even our measured local response to Bisphenol A will face a barrage of special-interest opposition.

But we can act locally in Multnomah County and overcome the cynical obfuscation that special interests have trotted out time after time on everything from tobacco to global warming.

Associated Oregon Industries is correct about one thing: I am passionate about this issue. But that passion is based on the serious public health dangers that this chemical compound presents. If a 'personal agenda' means that I don't want our children exposed to toxic chemicals, so be it.

Although the chemical industry might wish otherwise, protecting community health is always an appropriate and essential role for the county as the public health authority.

At a time when we all watch in dismay as special interests choke off progress in Congress and in our own Legislature, our community's ability to craft local solutions to public health problems is one of both principle and necessity.

I'm optimistic that Multnomah County will act to protect its most vulnerable residents from Bisphenol A, based upon the commonsense solutions other communities have achieved.

Jeff Cogen is chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.