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Regulations restricting the use of bispehnol-A
Department of Public Health

Thank you to Commissioner Auerbach and the Public Health Council for considering my testimony today.

By way of introduction, my name is Janet Domenitz and I am the Executive Director of MASSPIRG. We are a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization with 30,000 members across the state. MASSPIRG has long been involved in issues of public health, consumer protection and more specifically, issues associated with toxic chemicals. In 1989, we helped push for the law which established the first in the nation Toxics Use Reduction Institute at the University of Lowell, and we’ve continued to support measures reducing the use of toxics.
 
I’m here today to ask you to issue the strongest regulations possible to restrict the use of bisphenol-A, an estrogen mimicking, hormone-disrupting chemical which is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics, often found in children’s products.

For your reference, in the last legislative session, a bill to ban BPA and phthalates was pending. Phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic flexible, have also been found to pose a risk to human development and fertility. A ban on phthalates was included in the federal Consumer Protection Safety Commission Reform Act passed by Congress in August 2007. So now we are left with BPA. Congress didn’t deal with it, the state bill is still pending, and while many cities and towns and some states around the country have taken the important step to eliminate BPA, the Massachusetts ball is apparently in your court.

The Food and Drug Administration, in January of this year, issued an update, saying, “On the basis of results from recent studies, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.” Rather than drill through a list of those studies, I’d like to summarize the way I think about this issue.

Of one thing I am absolutely certain: the Council will hear different opinions about this proposal. I’m fairly sure that opponents of this proposal will assert that there’s no SCIENCE to support it, that the FACTS do not warrant the actions called for by the advocates, and that current regulations are based on extensive RESEARCH and are sufficient to protect the public.

I am not a scientist or a chemical engineer or a doctor of any kind. But I am a veteran of too many battles in which we---the advocates for the public interest---endured years of ‘point-counterpoint’ only to end up with public health compromised for too long, and the quality of lives jeopardized needlessly.

A few quick examples:

-My mother in law tells the story of when she was pregnant, taking pre-natal classes at the local clinic. After an hour or so of instruction, the nurse would pause for the expectant mothers and suggest that they take a cigarette break. When the first questions were raised about the potential dangers of cigarette smoking a few decades ago, the industry came back with facts, research, and data to counter those questions and claims. The rest is history.

-When lead was added to gasoline early in the 20th century, it was touted as a miracle of automotive engineering. Decades later, after countless assurances and studies from the government, scientists, and industry that leaded gasoline was safe and essential for society to march on, the tables finally started to turn. On a page of EPA’s own website where it chronicles the agency’s accomplishments it reads:
1973 (50 years after the introduction of lead in gasoline): EPA begins the ban that will phase out all use of lead in gasoline The phase-out protects millions of children from serious, permanent learning disabilities by helping to reduce blood lead levels by 75%.

-Several years ago, we had the controversy about the drug Vioxx. Introduced to the marketplace in the late 1990’s, Vioxx was to be a wonder drug for millions of Americans. Obviously, all products, and particularly medications, are considered safe by the time they get to the store shelves, with all the research, fact, and science needed to assure us of that safety, right? Wrong. After a few years of ‘agitating from independent scientists and advocates, Merck pulled Vioxx from the market after its own research found that the drug, even when taken at low dosages, doubled the risk of heart attack.’

DDT, global warming, the list goes on and on. The cycles are predictable. Advocates raise concerns founded in their SCIENCE, FACTS, and RESEARCH, opponents trot out their own SCIENCE, FACTS, and RESEARCH to contradict the concerns, and throw a few standard adjectives into the mix for good measure (My assertions have been called “alarmist”, my science references ‘junk’, my intentions ‘anti-business.’)

The regulation we’re asking you to support today bears some of these same hallmarks. There is SCIENCE, FACTS, and RESEARCH to document that bisphenol-A poses harm to health, and opponents can find their SCIENCE, FACTS, and RESEARCH which ‘prove’ those claims are false.  Unfortunately, we are not going to resolve all the controversy here today.

We’re hoping, though, that short of resolving all the questions and controversy, we can take this one step aimed at protecting our youngest children. A strong regulation from DPH can act on this one kind of chemical, and focus on one particular cohort---our kids. MASSPIRG urges the DPH to expand the proposed regulation to include a phase out of BPA from infant formula and baby food packaging and all reusable food and beverage containers, at a minimum.

Congress got ahead of us and already took the step of banning phthalates. BPA is just as bad, and yet the state legislature is letting a bill languish. We are gratified that Governor Patrick is paying attention to this issue, and we hope that DPH will be aggressive and ambitious about protecting our public health and taking action on BPA. Thank you for your consideration.

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