Beginning Wednesday, Californians started seeing new warnings about a chemical, Bisphenol A, when they buy food at the grocery store.
Known as BPA, it has long been used in a wide variety of products, including the linings of food and beverage cans and bottle and jar lids to extend shelf life and prevent bacterial contamination. In recent years, however, questions have come up about BPA’s potential toxicity. The Legislature passed a law in 2011 banning BPA in bottles or cups designed for use by children 3 years or younger.
The new warnings are required by Proposition 65, the 1986 measure intended to ensure that Californians are informed about potential exposure to chemicals that the state has determined cause “cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”
Last year, a panel of some of the state’s most distinguished scientists determined that BPA met the criteria for the Proposition 65 list. After evaluating several hundred studies, the panel determined that evidence supports the conclusion that BPA harms the female reproductive system.
Proposition 65 does not ban the use of these chemicals; instead, it is a “right to know” law. In many cases, that knowledge has served as a powerful incentive for businesses to remove listed chemicals from their products, such as lead from Mexican candy popular with children, lead and cadmium from tableware and jewelry, and cancer-causing acrylamide from potato chips.
With the new requirement, businesses must decide whether to stop using BPA or continue using the chemical and provide a warning.
Meanwhile, however, there are many products on the shelves that were packaged and stocked before the warning was required. To avoid confusion from inconsistent warnings on supermarket shelves, the state has adopted regulations that allow retailers, for a limited time, to provide the BPA warning near cash registers. Eventually, businesses will be required to put warnings on either product labels or supermarket shelves.
The new warning is much more detailed than a typical one under Proposition 65 because it names the chemical, says how exposure can occur and how consumers can avoid it, and directs consumers to additional information on the Proposition 65 website (www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/BPA).
Notably, several major manufacturers say they plan to remove BPA from their packaging; some already have. For now, we will continue working to ensure the public knows the risks of BPA in food containers.
Matthew Rodriquez is California’s secretary for environmental protection and can be contacted at SectyRodriquez@calepa.ca.gov. Lauren Zeise is acting director of CalEPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.