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Congress, Companies Target Chemicals

Bisphenol A and phthalates are in the crosshairs

by Britt E. Erickson and Michael McCoy
March 23, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 12

Credit: SC Johnson
SC Johnson has established a website where it will list its products' ingredients.
Credit: SC Johnson
SC Johnson has established a website where it will list its products' ingredients.

CHEMICAL INGREDIENTS in consumer products are under heightened scrutiny by legislators and makers of household goods. Legislators are proposing bans, and companies are phasing out ingredients or offering more information about the ingredients they use.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) have introduced companion legislation (S. 593 and H.R. 1523) that would ban bisphenol A from food and beverage containers. BPA, a known endocrine disrupter, has been at the center of debate since last spring because of its use in consumer products such as polycarbonate baby bottles and infant formula cans.

"The scientific evidence is mounting that BPA poses serious health risks, especially to children, and manufacturers and retailers have already started to pull items from their store shelves," Markey said in a statement.

Earlier this month, six major U.S. baby-bottle manufacturers announced an agreement to voluntarily eliminate BPA from their products. Chemical company Sunoco also said that it has made a commercial decision to no longer sell BPA to companies that use it in children's products.

The metal-packaging and chemical industries, as well as FDA and health agencies around the world, however, continue to say that BPA is safe to use in products that come into contact with food and beverages because the level of exposure is very low. They argue that the current science does not justify banning BPA from any consumer product, particularly when no alternatives exist.

The epoxy lining in food and beverage cans is one example for which no suitable alternatives to BPA are readily available, says John M. Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, an industry group.

The legislation would allow FDA to issue renewable one-year waivers for containers for which no alternatives to BPA exist, but those products would have to be labeled to indicate they contain BPA. The manufacturer also would have to provide FDA with a proposal for how it intends to comply with the ban in the future.

Meanwhile, the consumer products maker SC Johnson & Son is phasing out use of diethyl phthalate (DEP), which is often used as a fragrance carrier. SC Johnson, the maker of Windex, Shout, and Glade, stands by the safety of DEP but says it is responding to general consumer concerns about phthalates, which are endocrine disrupters.

The company is also launching an ingredient disclosure program for its home cleaning and air care products. "Today's families want to know what's in the household cleaners and air-freshening products they use in their homes," CEO Fisk Johnson says. He says the company is going beyond regulatory requirements and beyond an ingredient disclosure initiative that the cleaning products industry is launching next year.

Last month, environmental groups sued four major makers of household cleaning products—SC Johnson was not among them—to force them to reveal their ingredients under a 1976 New York state law that has never been enforced (C&EN, Feb. 23, page 11).



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