SACRAMENTO — A coalition of chemical companies is suing the Jerry Brown administration to stop an additive commonly found in food containers from being included in the state's list of substances that cause birth defects.
The lawsuit by the American Chemistry Council, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court on Friday, seeks to prevent the state's Environmental Protection Agency from placing new restrictions on the use of Bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical agent widely used to protect aluminum food cans from corrosion and to strengthen plastic bottles, toys and containers.
Industry representatives say in their filing that the state is ignoring the findings of national scientific experts, outlined in a 2008 report, that there was no proof BPA poses serious health risks. State regulators point to findings in the same report that say the chemical, used in soup cans, dental fillings and other items, could increase the risks of some birth defects.
If the Brown administration prevails, it could lead to warning labels on hundreds of ordinary food and household products and potentially expose manufacturers to a flurry of new lawsuits. Of more concern to the chemical's producers is the possibility that manufacturers could stop using it altogether.
"This is essentially viewed as a blacklist," said Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council. "There is no scientific reason for this to occur."
Officials at the California Environmental Protection Agency said late Friday that they had not had a chance to review the case and could not comment on the lawsuit.
But Allan Hirsch, chief deputy director of the EPA's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said the 2008 report found "that there is clear evidence that Bisphenol A causes developmental toxicity in laboratory animals."
That prompted the agency to conduct its own review, leading to the announcement in January that it intended to add BPA to the list of known harmful chemicals. Californians voted for the toxins registry when they passed Proposition 65 in 1986.
Placement on the list can be a virtual death sentence for a chemical. Last year, a substance known as 4-MEI that is found in caramel coloring was placed on a list of cancer-causing agents by state regulators. Rather than place labels on their products containing known carcinogens, major soda manufacturers, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, simply stopped using the chemical in their soft drinks.
"At some point, it becomes a business decision whether to provide a warning or to reformulate," said Colleen Flannery, a spokeswoman for the EPA's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
Last year, federal regulators rejected a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council to ban the use of BPA in food containers. In its rejection, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cited insufficient evidence that the chemical was dangerous but vowed to "continue scientific study and review of all new evidence regarding the safety of BPA."
In 2011, Brown signed a bill banning the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Federal regulators have since passed a similar national ban for products aimed at young children, though they continue to say the chemical is safe in general use.