State health officials are asking for the public’s help in determining the potential risks of a ban on infant formula that contains a potentially hazardous chemical.
The General Assembly in 2011 broadened a ban on bisphenol-A, or BPA, a compound found in many plastics. Laboratory research has raised concerns that the compound, which can transfer from plastic containers, could lead to reproductive birth defects in humans.
The expanded ban, which takes effect in 2014, forbids the state from purchasing infant formula that contains more than 0.5 parts per billion of BPA and bans the manufacturing or distribution of such a product.
But the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is soliciting public comment from manufacturers and the public to determine whether that standard is feasible, said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, director of the department’s Environmental Health Bureau.
The chemical is so widely distributed in the environment that officials are not yet sure it is possible to meet the 0.5 ppb standard, Mitchell said. Even if manufacturers don’t specifically use BPA in the manufacturing process, their products still could be contaminated, he said.
“That’s our question: Are we setting a standard that is technically achievable?” Mitchell said.
The department also is looking for public input on whether adopting the new standard raises any other public health issues and if alternatives to a numeric standard are feasible.
A recent report by DHMH didn’t conclude that BPA in baby formula was unsafe, but didn’t exclude a potential risk either.
“There has been no definitive research in humans,” Mitchell said.
Violating the ban is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of as much as $10,000 for each violation.
Consumer demand has led several companies — including the six main manufacturers of baby bottles — to stop producing child care items that contain BPA, and stores including Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us have begun phasing out some items that contain BPA, according to the Department of Legislative Services.
The American Chemical Council, a trade association whose members include Dow, DuPont and 3M, requested last year that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration remove baby bottles and spill-proof cups for young children from the agency’s list of items that can contain low levels of BPA.
The changes were intended to “clarify for consumers that BPA is no longer used to manufacture baby bottles and sippy cups and will not be used in these products in the future,” according to the council.