CHEMICALS

After defeat, Feinstein vows to renew BPA battle next year

The Senate will consider a broad food safety bill this week without tackling the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a victory for industry interests who lobbied to quash the issue. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) promised yesterday to keep pressing for limits on the substance.

Feinstein told E&E Daily yesterday that blowback from the chemical industry's main trade group torpedoed an agreement to ban BPA from children's drink containers that she had reached with the top Republican on the Senate panel in charge of food safety, Michael Enzi of Wyoming (Greenwire, Nov. 17). In a floor speech hours later, Feinstein lamented the industry opposition but said she would not insist that her BPA amendment get a vote during the food safety debate.

She took aim at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in the process.

"The chemical lobby in this country is keeping this amendment out of the food safety bill," she said, "because they want to make money to the longest point they can by selling a chemical which [studies have shown to be] very dangerous."

Feinstein added that although she could hold up the food safety legislation and "make a fuss, as some others have done over other issues," she instead would stand down, regroup and keep pushing the issue. "This battle may be lost, but rest assured, I don't intend to quit," she said.

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BPA is a man-made estrogen widely used in hard plastics and canned goods that is now under review by the Food and Drug Administration for potential adverse health impacts. Studies have indicated that the chemical carries risks of endocrine disruption as well as other developmental impairments in children and infants.

Environmental groups responded with frustration to the demise of Feinstein's amendment, which would have set a six-month window for banning BPA from baby bottles and children's sippy cups while speeding up a final FDA decision on the chemical. "[B]ig win for chemical industry lawyers on K Street," wrote Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Daniel Rosenberg in a blog post late yesterday. "For the children of America and their parents? Not so much."

In a statement released late yesterday, ACC said it would oppose any proposal on the food safety bill "that would revoke or impede FDA's authority," citing recent European and World Health Organization studies that affirmed BPA's safety.

"Throughout this process we have been constructively engaged with Congress, and have consistently advocated for respecting the scientific assessment of the experts at FDA who have the capacity and expertise to make safety decisions on food-contact materials," the statement said. "ACC relies on the consensus of 11 government agencies across the world that current exposures to BPA are 1,000 times below levels established as safe."

The food safety measure, which cleared a procedural hurdle today on a 74-25 vote, could pass the Senate as soon as this week. However, the chances of lawmakers completing a House-Senate conference committee in time to send a final version to President Obama's desk before the end of the year appear slim, given the crowded congressional calendar.

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