Governor Tim Pawlenty signed a bill Friday restricting the sale of children's drinking products made with Bisphenol A, or BPA.
BPA, a common chemical that helps harden plastic, is found in many plastic food storage containers. It also lines the inside surface of metal food and soft-drink cans.
Tests show that trace amounts of the chemical leach out of these containers and into the foods and liquids they're storing, particularly when exposed to heat. Animal studies have linked BPA exposure to reproductive problems and even a potential cancer risk.
While Minnesota is the first state to ban BPA in baby bottles and sipply cups, several others states, including California, Connecticut, Michigan and New York, are considering similar legislation.
Some retailers and manufacturers, responding to pressure from consumers, have already eliminated BPA from their products. But state Senator Sandy Rummel, chief author of the BPA legislation, says the situation is still inconsistent from store to store.
"Parents will go into the store and you'll see some items that are marked BPA-free but other items are not marked at all. They go to let's say a friend's house and their friend uses a cup and you don't know. And so knowing that the products that are on the market today do not have this chemical in it I think brings consistency and comfort to parents who are conscientious."
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Josh Winters says he unwittingly fed his 3-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son from bottles containing BPA. Winters says he doesn't know if the exposure posed much risk to his kids' health, but he would have never bought those products had he known that they contained a chemical that would leach into their food.
"I don't think that the onus should be on us as parents to have to worry about such a thing," he said. "It just strikes me as so odd that that would be the model, that I have to be so conscious about every single thing I buy. And it seems to me that there needs to be some onus on the producers of these products to create a product that I don't have to worry."
Minnesota lawmakers sought the ban in baby products because federal officials have been slow to respond to concerns about BPA. There is very little oversight when new chemicals are introduced into the market. And once those products are in circulation, the government can't ban them unless they prove that they are dangerous to human or animal health.
In addition to the BPA ban, the governor has signed legislation called the Toxic-Free Kids Act. It's designed to get ahead of the federal government on chemicals used in consumer products. It requires the Minnesota Department of Health to assess chemicals used in consumer products and publish a list of those with known human health risks.
Representative Kate Knuth is chief author of the bill. She says the list should send a clear signal to manufacturers that they should avoid using those chemicals. If the plan works, Knuth says the Legislature shouldn't have to spend its time banning individual chemicals.
"The point is we shouldn't have to have a huge public relations and advocacy effort to phase out toxic chemicals," she said. "I think that should just happen as a matter of basic public policy."