Bisphenol A

Tag: Bisphenol A

Voluntary removal of BPA from food cans leaves state regulators with a key decision

As Washington state regulators contemplate a ban on the chemical BPA from food and drink cans, a manufacturers organization insists that BPA has already been removed voluntarily from nearly all food cans.
Washington Department of Ecology is engaged in Phase 3 of the Safer Products for Washington program, which is evaluating five groups of chemicals known to cause health effects. Agency toxicologists are studying whether safer alternatives are practical and should be required as a matter of state law.

One of the compounds under review is bisphenol A (BPA), which can interfere with hormonal functions in humans and animals and affect development and reproduction. The chemical was once widely used as a coating on the inside of food and beverage cans to resist corrosion. Although the federal Food and Drug Administration has declared the chemical safe at common exposure levels for adults, there is a lot more to this story, as I have described in a series of blog posts, including Watching Our Water Ways in 2019 and Our Water Ways in July of last year.
As Ecology considers safer alternatives, the Can Manufacturers Institute, a national trade organization based in Washington, D.C., responded with a laboratory study of 234 sample cans containing various food products purchased at stores in Seattle and Yakima. Only two imported products being sold in Seattle were found to contain BPA in the ends of the cans: coconut milk from Thailand and peaches from Australia.
That’s a dramatic change from similar surveys conducted just a few years ago, including the 2016 Buyer Beware report (PDF 5.2 mb) by the Breast Cancer Fund, which found that about two-thirds of the cans tested contained BPA.
Because of consumer demand, the voluntary transition away from BPA is nearly complete, and Washington consumers face no significant exposure to bisphenols from eating canned foods, according to Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the Can Manufacturers Institute.
“We continue to urge (Ecology) to remove food cans as a priority product associated with exposure to bisphenols from its Safer Products program,” she said in an email. Check out CMI’s full comments.
Behind the scenes, there is kind of a skirmish going on over possible replacement chemicals — and industrial espionage is part of the intrigue. But let’s first touch on what is happening in Washington state.
If the latest survey of BPA in canned foods is confirmed, it is good news for the consumer. One could argue that there is now no need for new regulations to ban BPA. On the other hand, considering what appears to be a new stance in the industry, one could argue that a ban would provide legal assurance of greater safety with no significant harm to the vast majority of can manufacturers or to the food industry as a whole. The law does not require testing or reporting.

Since CMI found BPA in two cans imported from other countries, we have to wonder if the phase-out will eventually be complete or if foreign sources of canned foods may always pose some risk.
As part of an increased effort to improve environmental justice, Ecology officials are trying to make sure that disadvantaged populations, such as low-income or certain ethnic groups, are not affected more than others. Early studies showed that low-income populations were more prone to higher exposures to BPA, in part because of their greater consumption of canned foods. (See Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 2006.)
Ecology officials are still evaluating their options as part of Phase 3 of the Safer Products process. The CMI report provides helpful information, but it isn’t a formal, peer-reviewed study. As such, it cannot be considered as formal evidence in the decision-making process, according to Ecology officials. If nothing else, the report shows that alternative chemicals are available.
The Breast Cancer Fund, which produced the 2016 Buyer Beware survey of BPA in canned food, expressed support for the apparent phase-out of BPA, as determined by the Can Manufacturers Institute. But the fund bemoaned the lack of explicit information about which chemicals are being substituted in particular products.
“Identifying the safety of BPA alternatives is challenging, given the insufficient FDA review and approval of packaging additives and highly protected trade secrets in this product sector,” states a fact sheet (PDF 469 kb) from the organization.
The study by the Can Manufacturers Institute used infrared spectroscopy to identify the chemicals associated with can linings from a variety of food products. Some cans had no lining. Other linings involved acrylic, polyester or vinyl compounds as well as epoxy-based linings made with or without BPA.
Not included in the CMI’s analysis, however, were drink cans, which appear to present a special challenge because they are made from aluminum rather than steel. But a breakthrough by scientists at Valspar — now a subsidiary of Sherwin-Williams — offers hope that BPA-free liners could soon be widely available for drink cans as well, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News.

“Rather than look in the toolbox of epoxy alternatives for food and beverage cans, Valspar sought to develop a new epoxy without using monomers that affect the endocrine system,” states the article by Melody M. Bomgardner. “Now, after a decade of effort, Sherwin-Williams is commercializing a new can-lining epoxy, built from the ground up with a new monomer. The company says it is safe and performs just like those made with BPA.”
The new epoxy, called valPure V70, is used in many beverage cans in California and elsewhere. Although not identified specifically, this non-BPA epoxy may well have been seen in the steel cans tested by CMI in Washington state.
In her article, Bomgardner describes how scientists searched for, discovered and eventually tested a chemical replacement for BPA that was not biologically reactive. That chemical, tetramethyl bisphenol F, is being studied in labs across the U.S. and is under review by advocate groups.
Other available products coming on the market include metal coatings that use acrylic or polyester resins, such as Toyochem’s new Lionova brand.
The competitive rush to find acceptable replacements for BPA in drink cans involves some major players, including Coca-Cola. How much is at stake can be gleaned from the story of chemist Xiaorong “Shannon” You, who was recently convicted of stealing trade secrets that prosecutors valued at $120 million. She was said to be negotiating a deal to share chemical information with Chinese partners, as described in a story by Craig Bettenhausen in Chemical & Engineering News.
How these new can coatings will affect regulations in Washington state is yet to be seen, but a major part of the Safer-Products-Phase-3 effort is to decide — as the name implies — whether safer chemicals are available for use in food and drink cans. That would involve a review of the studies focused on the various alternatives, including new products certified for safety and performance by Cradle to Cradle and other certificate programs.
An interesting aspect of the Washington law is that regulators need not establish a threshold for human safety, such as the FDA has done. After determining that a chemical can cause harm, the question becomes whether a safer chemical is “feasible and available” before considering regulations. The process for determining whether an alternative chemical is safer is outlined in a working draft of “Phase 3 Criteria for Safer” (PDF 954 kb).

A webinar to discuss the issue of chemicals used in food and drink cans is scheduled for July 13 and is open to anyone interested. Also on the agenda that day is the use of flame retardants in recreational polyurethane foam and potential substitutes. Visit the registration page and sign up to take part. A draft of the Phase 3 report is expected by the end of this year, with a final report due on June 1 of next year, followed by potential new rules coming out the following year.
In addition to food and drink cans, people may be exposed to BPA by handling those slick receipts made with thermal paper containing the toxic compound. The chemical is absorbed through the skin, and hand sanitizers have been shown to increase the absorption and exposure. (See 2014 study in PLoS One.) Retail clerks and checkers who handle a lot of receipts are considered the most at risk.
The Phase 2 report from the Safer Products team at Ecology covers those issues surrounding thermal paper, as well as all the products of concern identified among the first set of priority chemical classes:

  • Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
  • Phthalates
  • Organohalogen flame retardants and flame retardants identified in RCW 70.240.010
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

The draft Phase 3 report from Ecology, scheduled for the end of this year, could signal some important changes to consumer products, with powerful implications across the country.

Voluntary removal of BPA from food cans leaves state regulators with a key decision

As Washington state regulators contemplate a ban on the chemical BPA from food and drink cans, a manufacturers organization insists that BPA has already been removed voluntarily from nearly all food cans.
Washington Department of Ecology is engaged in Phase 3 of the Safer Products for Washington program, which is evaluating five groups of chemicals known to cause health effects. Agency toxicologists are studying whether safer alternatives are practical and should be required as a matter of state law.

One of the compounds under review is bisphenol A (BPA), which can interfere with hormonal functions in humans and animals and affect development and reproduction. The chemical was once widely used as a coating on the inside of food and beverage cans to resist corrosion. Although the federal Food and Drug Administration has declared the chemical safe at common exposure levels for adults, there is a lot more to this story, as I have described in a series of blog posts, including Watching Our Water Ways in 2019 and Our Water Ways in July of last year.
As Ecology considers safer alternatives, the Can Manufacturers Institute, a national trade organization based in Washington, D.C., responded with a laboratory study of 234 sample cans containing various food products purchased at stores in Seattle and Yakima. Only two imported products being sold in Seattle were found to contain BPA in the ends of the cans: coconut milk from Thailand and peaches from Australia.
That’s a dramatic change from similar surveys conducted just a few years ago, including the 2016 Buyer Beware report (PDF 5.2 mb) by the Breast Cancer Fund, which found that about two-thirds of the cans tested contained BPA.
Because of consumer demand, the voluntary transition away from BPA is nearly complete, and Washington consumers face no significant exposure to bisphenols from eating canned foods, according to Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the Can Manufacturers Institute.
“We continue to urge (Ecology) to remove food cans as a priority product associated with exposure to bisphenols from its Safer Products program,” she said in an email. Check out CMI’s full comments.
Behind the scenes, there is kind of a skirmish going on over possible replacement chemicals — and industrial espionage is part of the intrigue. But let’s first touch on what is happening in Washington state.
If the latest survey of BPA in canned foods is confirmed, it is good news for the consumer. One could argue that there is now no need for new regulations to ban BPA. On the other hand, considering what appears to be a new stance in the industry, one could argue that a ban would provide legal assurance of greater safety with no significant harm to the vast majority of can manufacturers or to the food industry as a whole. The law does not require testing or reporting.

Since CMI found BPA in two cans imported from other countries, we have to wonder if the phase-out will eventually be complete or if foreign sources of canned foods may always pose some risk.
As part of an increased effort to improve environmental justice, Ecology officials are trying to make sure that disadvantaged populations, such as low-income or certain ethnic groups, are not affected more than others. Early studies showed that low-income populations were more prone to higher exposures to BPA, in part because of their greater consumption of canned foods. (See Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 2006.)
Ecology officials are still evaluating their options as part of Phase 3 of the Safer Products process. The CMI report provides helpful information, but it isn’t a formal, peer-reviewed study. As such, it cannot be considered as formal evidence in the decision-making process, according to Ecology officials. If nothing else, the report shows that alternative chemicals are available.
The Breast Cancer Fund, which produced the 2016 Buyer Beware survey of BPA in canned food, expressed support for the apparent phase-out of BPA, as determined by the Can Manufacturers Institute. But the fund bemoaned the lack of explicit information about which chemicals are being substituted in particular products.
“Identifying the safety of BPA alternatives is challenging, given the insufficient FDA review and approval of packaging additives and highly protected trade secrets in this product sector,” states a fact sheet (PDF 469 kb) from the organization.
The study by the Can Manufacturers Institute used infrared spectroscopy to identify the chemicals associated with can linings from a variety of food products. Some cans had no lining. Other linings involved acrylic, polyester or vinyl compounds as well as epoxy-based linings made with or without BPA.
Not included in the CMI’s analysis, however, were drink cans, which appear to present a special challenge because they are made from aluminum rather than steel. But a breakthrough by scientists at Valspar — now a subsidiary of Sherwin-Williams — offers hope that BPA-free liners could soon be widely available for drink cans as well, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News.

“Rather than look in the toolbox of epoxy alternatives for food and beverage cans, Valspar sought to develop a new epoxy without using monomers that affect the endocrine system,” states the article by Melody M. Bomgardner. “Now, after a decade of effort, Sherwin-Williams is commercializing a new can-lining epoxy, built from the ground up with a new monomer. The company says it is safe and performs just like those made with BPA.”
The new epoxy, called valPure V70, is used in many beverage cans in California and elsewhere. Although not identified specifically, this non-BPA epoxy may well have been seen in the steel cans tested by CMI in Washington state.
In her article, Bomgardner describes how scientists searched for, discovered and eventually tested a chemical replacement for BPA that was not biologically reactive. That chemical, tetramethyl bisphenol F, is being studied in labs across the U.S. and is under review by advocate groups.
Other available products coming on the market include metal coatings that use acrylic or polyester resins, such as Toyochem’s new Lionova brand.
The competitive rush to find acceptable replacements for BPA in drink cans involves some major players, including Coca-Cola. How much is at stake can be gleaned from the story of chemist Xiaorong “Shannon” You, who was recently convicted of stealing trade secrets that prosecutors valued at $120 million. She was said to be negotiating a deal to share chemical information with Chinese partners, as described in a story by Craig Bettenhausen in Chemical & Engineering News.
How these new can coatings will affect regulations in Washington state is yet to be seen, but a major part of the Safer-Products-Phase-3 effort is to decide — as the name implies — whether safer chemicals are available for use in food and drink cans. That would involve a review of the studies focused on the various alternatives, including new products certified for safety and performance by Cradle to Cradle and other certificate programs.
An interesting aspect of the Washington law is that regulators need not establish a threshold for human safety, such as the FDA has done. After determining that a chemical can cause harm, the question becomes whether a safer chemical is “feasible and available” before considering regulations. The process for determining whether an alternative chemical is safer is outlined in a working draft of “Phase 3 Criteria for Safer” (PDF 954 kb).

A webinar to discuss the issue of chemicals used in food and drink cans is scheduled for July 13 and is open to anyone interested. Also on the agenda that day is the use of flame retardants in recreational polyurethane foam and potential substitutes. Visit the registration page and sign up to take part. A draft of the Phase 3 report is expected by the end of this year, with a final report due on June 1 of next year, followed by potential new rules coming out the following year.
In addition to food and drink cans, people may be exposed to BPA by handling those slick receipts made with thermal paper containing the toxic compound. The chemical is absorbed through the skin, and hand sanitizers have been shown to increase the absorption and exposure. (See 2014 study in PLoS One.) Retail clerks and checkers who handle a lot of receipts are considered the most at risk.
The Phase 2 report from the Safer Products team at Ecology covers those issues surrounding thermal paper, as well as all the products of concern identified among the first set of priority chemical classes:

  • Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
  • Phthalates
  • Organohalogen flame retardants and flame retardants identified in RCW 70.240.010
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

The draft Phase 3 report from Ecology, scheduled for the end of this year, could signal some important changes to consumer products, with powerful implications across the country.

BPA debate rages, while state program seeks safer chemicals for many common products

Ongoing findings about the chemical Bisphenol A has further inflamed a debate about whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is adequately protecting people’s health when it comes to products containing BPA.
Meanwhile, a year-old state program, called Safer Products for Washington, may avoid some of the regulatory pitfalls people are seeing at the FDA by simply asking whether safer chemicals are available and whether it would be reasonable to use them instead.
BPA, which can disrupt normal hormonal function, has been a concern of mine since 2008, when I informed readers of Watching Our Water Ways that I was searching for and throwing away many of my old drinking-water bottles. Last year, I related that history and confessed that I had been trusting the FDA for too long when it comes to BPA (Water Ways, Sept. 12, 2019).

The dilemma, according to Patricia Hunt of Washington State University and other academic researchers, is that toxicologists working for regulatory agencies refuse to account for findings that show how endocrine-disrupting compounds may harm the body in ways that don’t fit traditional models.
For most regulated chemicals, toxic effects can be seen at high levels, and thus the goal is to lower the dose until a no-harm threshold is observed. But with endocrine disruptors, harmful effects seen at high levels may disappear at somewhat lower levels, allowing regulators to think that their work is done. They often don’t look for problems at still lower levels, where hormonal effects may operate in different ways, as described by many academic researchers.
The FDA expressed a willingness to confront this dilemma in a wide-ranging — and expensive — research project called CLARITY, which stands for Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on Toxicity of Bisphenol A.
“Although, ideally, a consensus between the approaches should be possible,” states an article in “Nature Reviews: Endocrinology,” “differences in research culture made the CLARITY effort akin to expecting a group of folk and punk rock musicians to pick
 up their instruments and play together 
in harmony.”
In fact, conclusions drawn from the academic side of the consortium have yet to be formally released six months after they were scheduled to be made public. As a result, many of the researchers involved in the project worked together to publish their own report last week in “Reproductive Toxicology.” They found, by looking in a coordinated fashion across “multiple organ systems,” that significant low-dose effects of BPA could be seen on the brain, prostate gland, urinary tract, ovary, mammary gland and heart.
The new report and its implications are described in far more detail in a rather enticing article titled “More bad news for BPA: Novel analysis adds to evidence of chemical’s health effects” published in “Environmental Health Perspectives.” It’s a good summary of the current state of affairs.
Sometimes it is nice to go back to the basics of a problem to develop a deeper understanding. Such is the approach taken in an entertaining podcast on “Cited” called “The Poison Paradigm,” which I highly recommend as well.

The dilemma with BPA may well apply to other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, some well known and others with dangers yet to be discovered. As some endocrinologists tell the story, safe levels for some compounds may not exist, because they affect the body in subtle ways. The best we can do in such cases is describe the effects seen at various exposure levels and try to find reasonable ways to reduce the risks.
That’s the approach behind the Safer Products for Washington program, created last year by the Legislature. The law calls on the Washington Department of Ecology to designate “priority chemicals” found to harm humans and the environment, identify products that create exposure risks, then decide if safer alternatives are available and feasible. Only then will regulations be proposed to phase out the harmful compounds.
In the first round of study, BPA was listed in a class of chemicals called phenolic compounds, which also includes BPS and other potentially harmful substitutes for BPA. Priority products deemed to potentially affect human health and the environment are food and drink can linings designed prevent corrosion, along with thermal papers commonly used to provide printed receipts in stores. BPA from can linings can be ingested with food and drinks, while BPA in thermal papers can be absorbed through the skin.

As described in a 200-page report released this month, other priority chemicals and priority products being studied at this time are:

  • Flame retardants: plastic housings used for electronic equipment, and polyurethane foam used in recreational products,
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): paints and printing inks,
  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): carpets and rugs, leather and textile furnishings, and aftermarket stain and water-resistant treatments, and
  • Pthalates: vinyl flooring, and personal-care and hygiene products.

In addition to bisphenols in the class of phenolic compounds, a group of chemicals called alkylphenol ethozylates is under review as used in laundry detergents.
This first report to the Legislature includes a literature review of the first five classes of priority chemicals and their applications in various products. The next phase will involve an analysis of the safety and the feasibility of alternative chemicals, including information from manufacturers. Check out the “Safer Products for Washington” webpage for a timeline of the process.
“This alternative assessment framework is the crux of a lot of the work we are doing,” said Marissa Smith, a senior regulatory toxicologist in the program. “Instead of asking, ‘What is a safe level?,’ we focus on reducing the risk by avoiding certain chemicals. The question becomes, ‘Is there a safer chemical?’”
Safer Products for Washington includes four front-line staffers, including Marissa. The Legislature approved $1.2 million for the first two years of the program, which also covers the cost of key players in the Washington State Department of Health and Office of the Attorney General.
While much of the regulatory process is focused on human health, another critical goal is to keep harmful chemicals from being released into the environment, where they can disrupt the food web. Thus Marissa and her fellow researchers are considering the total amount of chemicals being used in Washington state and what happens after their use — including disposal and breakdown products in the environment.
In addition to regulating chemicals, the Safer Products program is designed to provide information that can help people make better choices for their families, Marissa told me.
“You shouldn’t need a PhD to pick out your products,” Marissa said. “We also want to make safer products available for everyone. We don’t want it limited by price and who can afford it or to those who have access to information.”
As we’ve seen with so-called “BPA-free” water bottles, consumer pressure can be as effective as regulations — but somebody needs to make sure that the replacement chemicals are safer. And then the question becomes: Can we do even better in the future?
Under the Safer Products program, the identification of reasonable alternatives is the key to the regulatory approach. “We can’t tell people what to use; we can only tell them what not to use,” Marissa noted.
The program is open for everyone to provide review, suggestions and comments as the experts conduct their analyses, propose regulations and move on to study further chemicals in the coming years. Check out Ecology’s “Committees, Boards and Work Groups” for public-involvement options.

BPA debate rages, while state program seeks safer chemicals for many common products

Ongoing findings about the chemical Bisphenol A has further inflamed a debate about whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is adequately protecting people’s health when it comes to products containing BPA.
Meanwhile, a year-old state program, called Safer Products for Washington, may avoid some of the regulatory pitfalls people are seeing at the FDA by simply asking whether safer chemicals are available and whether it would be reasonable to use them instead.
BPA, which can disrupt normal hormonal function, has been a concern of mine since 2008, when I informed readers of Watching Our Water Ways that I was searching for and throwing away many of my old drinking-water bottles. Last year, I related that history and confessed that I had been trusting the FDA for too long when it comes to BPA (Water Ways, Sept. 12, 2019).

The dilemma, according to Patricia Hunt of Washington State University and other academic researchers, is that toxicologists working for regulatory agencies refuse to account for findings that show how endocrine-disrupting compounds may harm the body in ways that don’t fit traditional models.
For most regulated chemicals, toxic effects can be seen at high levels, and thus the goal is to lower the dose until a no-harm threshold is observed. But with endocrine disruptors, harmful effects seen at high levels may disappear at somewhat lower levels, allowing regulators to think that their work is done. They often don’t look for problems at still lower levels, where hormonal effects may operate in different ways, as described by many academic researchers.
The FDA expressed a willingness to confront this dilemma in a wide-ranging — and expensive — research project called CLARITY, which stands for Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on Toxicity of Bisphenol A.
“Although, ideally, a consensus between the approaches should be possible,” states an article in “Nature Reviews: Endocrinology,” “differences in research culture made the CLARITY effort akin to expecting a group of folk and punk rock musicians to pick
 up their instruments and play together 
in harmony.”
In fact, conclusions drawn from the academic side of the consortium have yet to be formally released six months after they were scheduled to be made public. As a result, many of the researchers involved in the project worked together to publish their own report last week in “Reproductive Toxicology.” They found, by looking in a coordinated fashion across “multiple organ systems,” that significant low-dose effects of BPA could be seen on the brain, prostate gland, urinary tract, ovary, mammary gland and heart.
The new report and its implications are described in far more detail in a rather enticing article titled “More bad news for BPA: Novel analysis adds to evidence of chemical’s health effects” published in “Environmental Health Perspectives.” It’s a good summary of the current state of affairs.
Sometimes it is nice to go back to the basics of a problem to develop a deeper understanding. Such is the approach taken in an entertaining podcast on “Cited” called “The Poison Paradigm,” which I highly recommend as well.

The dilemma with BPA may well apply to other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, some well known and others with dangers yet to be discovered. As some endocrinologists tell the story, safe levels for some compounds may not exist, because they affect the body in subtle ways. The best we can do in such cases is describe the effects seen at various exposure levels and try to find reasonable ways to reduce the risks.
That’s the approach behind the Safer Products for Washington program, created last year by the Legislature. The law calls on the Washington Department of Ecology to designate “priority chemicals” found to harm humans and the environment, identify products that create exposure risks, then decide if safer alternatives are available and feasible. Only then will regulations be proposed to phase out the harmful compounds.
In the first round of study, BPA was listed in a class of chemicals called phenolic compounds, which also includes BPS and other potentially harmful substitutes for BPA. Priority products deemed to potentially affect human health and the environment are food and drink can linings designed prevent corrosion, along with thermal papers commonly used to provide printed receipts in stores. BPA from can linings can be ingested with food and drinks, while BPA in thermal papers can be absorbed through the skin.

As described in a 200-page report released this month, other priority chemicals and priority products being studied at this time are:

  • Flame retardants: plastic housings used for electronic equipment, and polyurethane foam used in recreational products,
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): paints and printing inks,
  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): carpets and rugs, leather and textile furnishings, and aftermarket stain and water-resistant treatments, and
  • Pthalates: vinyl flooring, and personal-care and hygiene products.

In addition to bisphenols in the class of phenolic compounds, a group of chemicals called alkylphenol ethozylates is under review as used in laundry detergents.
This first report to the Legislature includes a literature review of the first five classes of priority chemicals and their applications in various products. The next phase will involve an analysis of the safety and the feasibility of alternative chemicals, including information from manufacturers. Check out the “Safer Products for Washington” webpage for a timeline of the process.
“This alternative assessment framework is the crux of a lot of the work we are doing,” said Marissa Smith, a senior regulatory toxicologist in the program. “Instead of asking, ‘What is a safe level?,’ we focus on reducing the risk by avoiding certain chemicals. The question becomes, ‘Is there a safer chemical?’”
Safer Products for Washington includes four front-line staffers, including Marissa. The Legislature approved $1.2 million for the first two years of the program, which also covers the cost of key players in the Washington State Department of Health and Office of the Attorney General.
While much of the regulatory process is focused on human health, another critical goal is to keep harmful chemicals from being released into the environment, where they can disrupt the food web. Thus Marissa and her fellow researchers are considering the total amount of chemicals being used in Washington state and what happens after their use — including disposal and breakdown products in the environment.
In addition to regulating chemicals, the Safer Products program is designed to provide information that can help people make better choices for their families, Marissa told me.
“You shouldn’t need a PhD to pick out your products,” Marissa said. “We also want to make safer products available for everyone. We don’t want it limited by price and who can afford it or to those who have access to information.”
As we’ve seen with so-called “BPA-free” water bottles, consumer pressure can be as effective as regulations — but somebody needs to make sure that the replacement chemicals are safer. And then the question becomes: Can we do even better in the future?
Under the Safer Products program, the identification of reasonable alternatives is the key to the regulatory approach. “We can’t tell people what to use; we can only tell them what not to use,” Marissa noted.
The program is open for everyone to provide review, suggestions and comments as the experts conduct their analyses, propose regulations and move on to study further chemicals in the coming years. Check out Ecology’s “Committees, Boards and Work Groups” for public-involvement options.