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California Rejects Chemical Ban
January 20, 2006
Trevor Butterworth
Democrat has about turn: says health experts not politicians should decide whether chemicals should be banned

An attempt by activists and environmentalists to ban additives to plastics in baby products fell one vote short of passing California's state appropriations committee to reach the full state assembly. And to the Democratic sponsors of the bill, the surprise was that San Francisco Democrat Leland Yee voted against the ban. The Los Angeles Times cited his press secretary as saying that Lee felt it was better to let health experts decide on ban chemicals.

"He didn't like the concept of just outlawing these products outright, given there was conflicting scientific data," said press secretary Adam Keigwin.

The Los Angeles Times, which has a long track record of hyping fears over phthalates (which is to say, giving activists a soapbox to make scientific claims and then failing to check out whether the claims are supported by the science) was a little more circumspect in reporting the news, but continued to emphasize fears about the safety of the chemicals over reporting just why such fears have been dismissed.

“The bill had sparked a scientific debate, and the plastics industry mounted an intense lobbying campaign against the ban, saying it would prevent California consumers from choosing popular products without definitive evidence that the chemicals pose a health threat.

There is evidence that phthalates and bisphenol A could be altering the hormones and harming the reproductive systems of babies, but the results are not considered conclusive, and some studies have been controversial. The compounds have been shown in laboratory studies to mimic estrogen or block testosterone and feminize animals.”

As STATS has repeatedly pointed out, the evidence that phthalates are “harming the reproductive systems of babies” was not supported by the data in the study that has been cited as demonstrating this risk. Furthermore, an independent expert panel convened by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR), of the NIEHS and National Toxicology Program, to examine the reproductive health hazards and risks of the phthalate DEHP was unable to validate the key finding in the study that made this claim. All of which is to say that the word “controversial” doesn’t quite do justice to this scientific dispute.

A similar bill to ban phthalates will be debated in Maryland’s state legislature in the coming month.