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San Francisco ban abolishing chemicals in baby products challenged

By Elizabeth Daley, Bay City News Service

December 4, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A pending San Francisco law prohibiting the manufacture, sale and distribution of baby products containing certain possibly harmful chemicals has been stayed after the city was challenged by two separate lawsuits filed by retailers, manufacturers and chemists.

The law was supposed to have gone into effect Dec. 1, according to city attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey. The lawsuits are set to be heard Jan. 8.

The chemicals in question, phthalates and bisphenol A, which can be found in household items, teething rings, soft plastic toys and baby bottles, can cause reproductive defects and early onset puberty, according to the California Public Interest Research Group.

A report delivered to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in October states that other countries have enacted similar legislation banning the chemicals and states such as Maryland have considered banning the chemicals as well.

In their October report to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Legislative Analysts wrote "monitoring and enforcement could be expensive, depending upon the number of covered businesses. It might be worthwhile to consider whether a voluntary compliance program might be most efficient. Public education might create a change in market conditions such that divesting of banned products voluntarily would be attractive."

However lawsuits filed by retailers against the city of San Francisco do not indicate compliance. Manufacturers and chemists allege that the city of San Francisco does not have the jurisdiction to pass such a ban and that evidence indicating the possible harm caused by the chemicals is insufficient.

Richard Woo, owner of San Francisco based retailer Citikids Baby News and co-plaintiff in one of the cases against San Francisco said he would be willing to post warning signs in his store stating that the products in question may cause harm, but in passing the ban, "I feel that the city is getting involved in something they have no jurisdiction over."

Woo, who was at one time a biochemist, said the chemicals might be present in one third of the plastic products his store sells.

According to Woo, the chemicals in question have been on the market for more than 50 years.

"The other substitute products they are proposing do not have a track record. They will probably have to do studies and when they do, they will find they get some similar results, that it's harmful to the human body, all these are petrochemical products. They are all derived from petroleum."

Still, certain manufacturers such as Born Free, in Austin, Texas, have started to manufacture baby products such as baby bottles and drinking cups that do not contain phthalates or bisphenol A, preventing possible harm that may be caused by the chemicals.

Whole Foods Market stopped selling baby products containing baby bottles and drinking cups for kids made of plastic that contained phthalates after receiving "emerging scientific evidence of their risk," the store reported.

"After thoroughly reviewing current scientific work on this subject, it is clear to us there is still substantial research to be done.

Meanwhile, we are following recommendations from creditable experts that polycarbonate drinking containers for children could be risky so we have decided to take precaution and offer only polycarbonate-free bottles and cups for them at this time," said Joe Dickson, quality and standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market based in Austin, Texas.

"Children's products simply should not contain toxic chemicals," said CALPIRG health advocate Emily Clayton. Clayton urged shoppers to carefully examine all items purchased for hazardous materials or chemicals that may lurk within.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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