San Francisco Reconsidering Ban on Phthalates

Published April 1, 2007

The heads of two San Francisco departments have asked the city’s supervisors to reconsider a proposed ordinance that would severely restrict the commercial availability of products containing chemicals known as phthalates and bisphenol A.

According to a January 23 request by Dr. Michael Katz, the city’s director of public health, and Jared Blumenfeld, the city’s environmental department director, the city should reduce the number of products affected by the ordinance.

In late 2006 San Francisco enacted an ordinance banning the sale, distribution, and manufacture of baby-related items containing any level of the chemical bisphenol A and certain levels of phthalates.

Bisphenol A is an industrial chemical essential to the polycarbonate plastics used in baby bottles and many other consumer products. Phthalates are commonly used primarily to make vinyl plastic flexible, in everything from children’s toys to kitchen flooring.

Doubts About Studies

The San Francisco measure is a response to environmental activists’ allegations that rodents exposed to bisphenol A and certain phthalates experienced abnormalities in the development of sexual organs. Scientific studies have concluded real-world human exposure poses no threat to adults or babies.

The ordinance banning phthalates and bisphenol A in baby products was scheduled to take effect December 1, 2006, but implementation was delayed by a pair of lawsuits challenging San Francisco’s authority to enact it. The request by Katz and Blumenfeld promises to further delay implementation, if not scuttle the measure entirely.

Katz and Blumenfeld are asking the city to delay the ordinance for at least a year while the California legislature investigates the chemicals and decides whether to regulate them. The department heads also seek to codify and reduce the number of children’s products covered by the phthalate ban.

No Health Risks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has investigated phthalates and bisphenol A and has found no health risks associated with current exposure to the chemicals.

A newly released study of bisphenol A supports EPA’s findings. The European Union’s Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has just released a report concluding there is no reliable evidence that low-level exposure to bisphenol A threatens human health.

According to the report, “low-dose effects of BPA [bisphenol A] in rodents have not been demonstrated in a robust and reproducible way, such that they could be used as pivotal studies for risk assessment.

“Moreover, a number of other studies applying low doses of BPA were also unable to demonstrate low-dose effects on reproduction or development,” the report observes.

Children Not Vulnerable

A February 1 news release from the George Mason University Statistical Assessment Service notes the European study “not only reaffirms the safety of BPA, it sharply criticizes the methodology used in many of the low-dose exposure studies on rodents (which have formed the basis for activist attempts to have BPA proscribed). These conflict with recent tests more rigorously conducted using ‘comprehensive protocols’ that did not show reproductive damage to rodents.”

“The American Council on Science and Health [ACSH] did a blue-ribbon panel report, including former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, on the subject of phthalates and health about four years ago,” said ACSH President Elizabeth Whelan. “We could find no evidence that phthalates pose any risk to human health.”

Whelan sharply disagreed with the assertion that children are particularly vulnerable to phthalates and other chemicals.

“In most cases children are no more susceptible than the general population,” Whelan said. “We wrote a whole book on the topic of child exposure. It is an issue where environmental activists try to get around the science by playing the fear card and attempting to appeal to the protective emotions of adults toward their children.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.