The email from the American Chemistry Council took Gretchen Lee Salter's breath away.
The ACC email that arrived Friday afternoon said there's no reason to worry about bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles and children's sippy cups because the controversial plastic additive is no longer used in those products in the United States.
The trade group's announcement came after Salter, the policy manager of the Breast Cancer Fund, had spent the past six years on the frontlines of a major battle over California legislation to ban BPA from those products.
Salter's group and others were able to declare victory when Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed A.B. 1319 into law last week -- only to see ACC say three days later that the problem does not exist.
To Salter, something didn't ring true.
"The amount of resources they poured into states trying to regulate baby bottles and sippy cups and the amount of resources they poured into California," Salter said, then paused. "To all of the sudden say, 'Folks, there is no problem here, we don't use BPA anyway.' It's this weird, almost Orwellian double speak."
ACC had doggedly insisted that BPA is safe, and the group has fought fiercely against federal and state legislative proposals to ban the chemical, which public health advocates have linked to a hormonal disruption and other developmental problems in children.
Disclosure forms shows that ACC has invested heavily in lobbying in California since 2005, when the first bill limiting BPA was introduced in the state Legislature. And on more than one occasion, the group employed outside help to lobby on bills relating to BPA.
In total, ACC has spent more than $9.4 million on its lobbying efforts in the Golden State since 2005. It has also contributed $50,000 to state lawmakers' campaign accounts, including $4,500 to California Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D). The group has also launched online campaigns such as the website bisphenol-a.org to tout the safety of BPA.
So why did ACC spend so much money lobbying against bills to ban BPA from sippy cups and baby bottles when the plastics additive is no longer in those products?
Bill Allayaud, the Environmental Working Group's California government affairs director, said ACC was afraid a narrow BPA ban on children's food containers could eventually expand to include other products.
"The bills over the years have been extremely limited," he said. "It was clear to us that they wanted to stop any move toward banning BPA in general. They are afraid there will be a movement. Will canned foods be next? I think that is at the root of their intense lobbying efforts."
To be clear, it is not possible to see exactly how much money ACC spent on specific BPA bills in California because disclosure forms do not require lobbyists to break down their spending to that extent.
And, according to lobbying reports, the ACC was involved in lobbying on several fronts during that time span, from legislation involving flame retardants to a green chemistry initiative to setting standards on phthalate plasticizers.
However, increases in lobbying spending correspond with the movement of BPA legislation.
In August 2008, environmentalists were the closest they had come so far to getting S.B. 1713, which would have restricted BPA in children's products, through the Legislature. The green groups appeared to have the votes, and the bill gained national attention. California's U.S. senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein even sent the speaker of the California Assembly a letter urging passage of the bill.
ACC ramped up their lobbying spending significantly during that time, reporting $4.7 million during the third quarter of 2008 alone. Before that, the most ACC had previously spent lobbying in one quarter was $350,000 in the third quarter of 2007.
The trade group also paid Public Policy Advocates LLC. $224,000 during the 2007-2008 legislative session to lobby on issues including S.B. 1713. It dished out another $114,000 to Edelstein, Gilbert, Robson and Smith LLC. those years as well, which also lobbied on the bill.
ACC points out that there were a number of high-profile bills moving through the California Legislature that year, including one on flame retardants. And, indeed, lobbying reports show that in the third quarter of 2008 ACC lobbied on no fewer than 12 bills.
Group wants FDA to have jurisdiction, not states
Steven Hentges of ACC's polycarbonate/BPA global group, said even though baby bottles and sippy cups no longer contain BPA, ACC had good reason to oppose the California legislation as well as other state and federal initiatives.
In particular, Hentges emphasized that the Food and Drug Administration, with its team of scientists, should be making regulatory decisions, not state legislators (see related story).
"We participated in a broad coalition to oppose A.B. 1319 because it is not justified by the science, because it establishes an unattainable standard and because we believe that the FDA -- rather than legislatures -- is best equipped to make decisions on the science regarding food contact material," Hentges said.
ACC's announcement last week was accompanied by a petition submitted to FDA asking the agency to revise BPA regulations to reflect the chemical is not used in baby bottles and sippy cups (E&ENews PM, Oct. 7).
Hentges added that ACC will "continue to oppose legislation which is not scientifically justified and when such matters are better left to agency experts."
Feinstein girds for next BPA fight
Feinstein is particularly familiar with ACC's lobbying operation.
Last year, Feinstein sought to attach an amendment to a food safety bill to ban BPA in children's drink containers. The California Democrat appeared to have reached an agreement to include the amendment in the final bill, but a last-minute push by the chemical industry kept it out of the legislation (E&E Daily, Nov. 18, 2010).
Yesterday, Feinstein called the ACC announcement and FDA petition "ironic."
"I know too well how stubborn this industry has been to listen to science and concerned consumers and how heavily they lobbied lawmakers," she said.
Feinstein also appeared ready to fight the industry group again, foreshadowing the next potential BPA showdown.
ACC "must have realized that no matter how much money they spend, no parent, grandparent or concerned person will stand by while our kids are used as guinea pigs with a chemical that can seriously harm their immediate and long-term health," she said.
"The next step," Feinstein added, "must be to ban BPA from infant formula and baby food."