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Multnomah County Bans BPA

Multnomah County is the first in the state to restrict the sale of certain containers made with the chemical Bisphenol A.

The decision marks a win for activists who twice failed to convince the Oregon Legislature to pass a similar law, and while Bisphenol A — or BPA — might seem like a consumer issue, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen said the county has a specific reason for getting involved.

Plastic water bottles, along with children's "sippy cups" and other drink containers, are among the items that often contain BPA.

Lisa Morrison / OPB

“Multnomah County is the local public health authority,” Cogan said after the decision Thursday.

Numerous studies have raised concerns about the effect of BPA on human health, especially in infants and young children. The federal Department of Health and Human Services has not moved to block BPA use, but has acknowledged the concerns and issued guidelines to minimize exposure. Cogen said the new county restrictions aren’t really aimed at people who might already be aware of the risks.

“People who really know can absolutely find BPA-free products. But a lot of people don’t know to look,” Cogan said. “And what we found is that BPA is most often found in products being sold that are marketed toward low-income people, and people of color.”

These groups, Cogen notes, are also statistically less likely to breastfeed their children, and thus are more likely to rely on baby bottles and other containers that could contain BPA.

“It becomes really a health-equity issue, in addition to becoming a public health issue,” Cogan said.

The new ordinance said reusable plastic drink containers — including baby bottles — sold in Multnomah County may not contain BPA. An enforcement plan for the ban is still being written, but Cogen said it would be a complaint-based system. The county will rely on the public to keep an eye out for problem products. The Health Department said it can manage compliance with existing staff and under current budget constraints.

At an informational hearing earlier this month, no one testified in opposition to the ban. When the Legislature debated a similar proposal earlier this year, opponents pointed out the plastics industry is already trying to phase out BPA.

The American Chemistry Council said in a written statement that decisions regarding BPA and food-contact materials should remain with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The ban will likely take effect early next spring, once health officials nail down the rules for enforcement.

More on BPA

Info sheet from National Toxicology Program

BPA Q & A by National Institute of Environmental Health Services / National Institutes of Health

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