Way back in February the city of Chicago appeared poised to become the first government banning the sale of baby bottles and other products made with bisphenol A, a chemical that’s been linked to cancer, kidney ailments, heart disease, and other health problems. It didn’t happen—opponents, mostly business groups, protested that the measure was a jobs killer, and aldermen set it to the side in the hopes that the federal government would do something so they didn’t have to.
Three months have passed, and while the feds haven’t acted, others have: Suffolk County, New York, became the first local government to prohibit baby products with BPA, and this week Minnesota enacted the first statewide BPA ban.
But Chicago would still be the first major U.S. city to restrict its use if, as expected, the City Council passes an ordinance next week banning the sale of baby bottles and cups that use the chemical. A joint meeting of the council’s finance and license committees will consider the ordinance Monday morning at 11, and if it advances it would be taken up by the full council Wednesday.
“We believe we’ll be setting the standard for other jurisdictions considering similar legislation,” said alderman Manny Flores, one of the primary sponsors of the measure. “We’re hoping that this starts a groundswell and also sends a message to the FDA.”
The original proposal introduced by Flores and cosponsor Ed Burke would have imposed broad restrictions on food products, toys, and other items aimed at children younger than 7. But it was blasted by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, whose representatives noted that virtually every canned food product would be illegal, and Burke tabled it without a vote.
The latest incarnation has a couple of new sponsors–administration allies Eugene Schulter, who chairs the license committee, and Ariel Reboyras, which is another sign that it’s probably going forward this time. It’s also more narrowly focused than the previous proposals, prohibiting the sale of “any empty bottle or cup that is specifically designed to be filled with food or liquid to be used primarily by a child under the age of three.” Other products, including bottles or cans that package food, would not be banned. And most packaged food companies rely heavily on materials made with BPA, according to a new study commissioned by Environment Illinois.
Tanya Triche, a staff attorney for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, says the amended ordinance is an improvement but still doesn’t go far enough. “If the scope has been narrowed, that would help,” she said. “But this is the kind of issue we just don’t think is best addressed at the municipal or state level—it’s something the FDA should address. It gets very confusing and very costly to have a number of different regulations in different parts of the country.”
Flores doesn’t disagree but says Chicago shouldn’t wait any longer on the FDA, Congress, or even the Illinois General Assembly, where a similar, statewide proposal has stalled. “We have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. What’s our priority going to be? The bottom line or the health and welfare of our people?”