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Calif. Assembly rejects chemical ban in baby items

California lawmakers Monday rejected restrictions on a chemical used in baby bottles and canned formula despite consumer safety concerns that have led retailers to remove products containing the chemical from their shelves.

The state Assembly voted 31-27 on Monday to turn down a bill by Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, requiring that food and beverage containers designed for children 3 years and younger contain no more than trace amounts of bisphenol A.

The vote took place days after the federal Food and Drug Administration declared that low doses of bisphenol A are not a threat to infants or adults. However, the agency acknowledged that more research is needed to fully understand the chemical's effects on humans.

"I think the evidence is just not clear enough," said Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay. "If we do switch to a different chemical, has that chemical been thoroughly vetted and are there side affects that impact people and children?"

Animal studies have shown that bisphenol A can disrupt the hormonal system, but scientists differ on whether the very low amounts found in food and beverage containers can be harmful to people.

The FDA's finding followed a report earlier this year by the National Toxicology Program, a partnership of federal health agencies, that found there was "some concern" that the chemical can cause changes in behavior and the brain, and that it may reduce survival and birth weight in fetuses. The conclusion was based on animal studies.

Canada has announced it intends to ban the use of bisphenol A in baby bottles, and several major retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R" Us Inc. have said they would stop selling baby bottles made with the chemical next year.

Supporters of the bill said lawmakers should be following manufacturers' cautious lead to protect young children.

"In the end this bill is about a synthetic hormone that is in our children's food," said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco.

Bisphenol A is found in dental sealants, the linings of food cans, CDs and DVDs, eyeglasses and hundreds of other household goods. The chemical industry, grocery retailers, bottled water companies and food processors say it has been used safely for more than 50 years.

Several California lawmakers said they wanted to wait for more conclusive studies and urged a more comprehensive, science-based look at chemicals in consumer products.

They also turned down a bill by Sen. Elaine Corbett, D-San Leandro, that would have banned perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical used to keep food from sticking to packaging. The Environmental Protection Agency considers PFOA potentially carcinogenic and says businesses should voluntarily stop using it by 2015.

"I'm not in a position to be able to evaluate the science and it's frustrating," said Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier. "My colleagues say better be safe than sorry. I can't make that decision."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who last year agreed to a ban on another potentially dangerous chemical, phthalates, in baby products and toys, has not said whether he will sign the bills if they pass out of the Legislature. Both lawmakers plan to request another vote on their legislation.

Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said the governor would consider each bill on its merits, but he favors a more comprehensive approach.

That kind of approach is included in separate legislation moving through the Legislature. As lawmakers rejected the Corbett and Migden bills, Adams and several lawmakers announced that they had struck an agreement that could position California as the first state to regulate chemicals in products.

"I think we're very excited about the idea of having a science-based approach to looking at these chemicals rather than a political fight over each and every one," Adams told The Associated Press in a phone call.

The bill Adams and the lawmakers negotiated would set up a process to regulate products that might contain dangerous chemicals beginning in 2011, said the author, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles. It would also create a public information clearinghouse on the thousands of chemicals found in everyday products.

While Feuer favors the comprehensive approach in his bill, he urged his Assembly colleagues to pass the immediate chemical bans on bisphenol A and PFOA.

"Ideally soon we will be out of the business for handling measures like this," Feuer said of the individual chemical bans. "But for today our kids rely on us to do the right thing."