A state panel will not require warning labels on metal cans, plastic bottles and other products that contain bisphenol A, despite more than 200 studies that have linked the chemical to cancer and reproductive problems.
Wednesday’s unanimous decision may speak to the limitations of the state Environmental Protection Agency’s Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee. Dorothy Burk, chairwoman of the committee, acknowledged its reach is limited.
“By law we can only look at prenatal exposure, so that’s why we struggle so long,” she said. “We may be thinking there is something here but we just don’t have enough evidence to say it clearly causes this.”
Critics note the panel also failed to identify secondhand smoke as a reproductive toxin until 2006, and has voted to warn the public against only one chemical in the last three years.
“This isn’t exactly a committee that’s on the cutting edge of public health decisions in California,” said Gretchen Lee Salter, policy manager at the Breast Cancer Fund.
The seven-member panel of scientists and physicians provide one venue through which products are required to display a warning label as part of Proposition 65.
Under the proposition, which was approved by voters in 1986, chemicals can be added to the state’s list of substances known to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity if an “authoritative body” establishes such a link.
Following the panel’s decision, the Natural Resources Defense Council presented a petition demanding that BPA be listed because a study by the National Toxicology Program -- a state-recognized authoritative body -- had found “some concern” about the chemical’s impact on the brains, behaviors, and prostate glands of fetuses, infants and children.
Meanwhile, some retailers have pulled products containing the chemical and many consumers have stopped buying plastic baby bottles.
The state Senate voted in June to ban BPA in food and drink containers for children under the age of 3.
The Assembly is expected to vote on the ban later this summer.
Although the panel may not have found the scientific evidence strong enough to warn the public, the panel’s chairwoman said she abides by the “precautionary principle.”
“I think if I had a baby I probably would try to use glass,” Burk said.