Frequently asked questions on Multnomah County's BPA restrictions

October 27, 2011

What just happened?

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, acting in its capacity as the County Board of Health, voted to adopt a policy restricting the sale in the county of all reusable beverage containers and reusable infant and child beverage containers that contain Bisphenol A.

What’s Bisphenol A?

Bisphenol A (also known as BPA) is an industrial chemical that is widely used to make resins and polycarbonate plastics, including baby bottles and linings of metal food and baby formula cans.

Why does the chemical cause concern?

Because Bisphenol A is known to leach into food and liquids from containers, resulting in human exposure. An analysis of Bisphenol A by the county Health Department found it is a hormone-disrupting chemical that scientific studies have linked to cancer, obesity, reproductive problems, heart disease and liver abnormalities.

Any other concerns?

Yes. Studies show babies and infants are more vulnerable to health effects from this industrial chemical. Peer-reviewed studies show possible health effects on thyroid function, brain growth, changes in behavioral development such as hyperactivity and breast and prostate cancer,

Is Multnomah County the only local government to have taken action on this chemical?

No. While Multnomah County is the first county in Oregon to pass a limited ban on the sale of products with Bisphenol A in them, at least four counties in New York have taken similar action. Also, several states—including Washington and California—have passed their own bans. An effort to pass a statewide ban in Oregon failed this year in the Legislature.

Why does the county feel the need to step in?

The proposal uses the "precautionary principle," which is a basic tenet of public health practice. That principle directs policymakers to make decisions protecting public health when evidence exists of potential harm but an absence of complete scientific proof of harm.

The burden of proof is on documenting that no harm will ensue – not just on documenting whether any harm has occurred. And the Health Department’s review of current research examining the health effects of Bisphenol A has found evidence of potential harm.

What’s next?

The board action directs the county Health Department to write rules and regulations that carry out the policy order approved on Oct, 27 by the Board of Commissioners, in its role as the county Board of Health.