Long Islanders Laura Weinberg and Karen Joy Miller were campaigning against the plasticizing agent bisphenol-A, or BPA, long before it became a subject of legislative concern.
Last week, their efforts were rewarded when Gov. David A. Paterson signed the bisphenol-A-Free Children and Babies Act into law, banning the sale of children's products laced with the compound. New York is now one of nine states - and the largest - to bar sales of baby bottles and other items containing the chemical.
The two women call themselves a tag team in the fight.
Miller estimates she and Weinberg, who lives in Great Neck and heads the coalition there, have been campaigning against the compound for at least 10 years. Studies have linked it to various forms of cancer in adults and developmental problems in children.
The jury is still out on whether there's an actual cause and effect. Nevertheless, Miller and Weinberg say they don't want New Yorkers to have to take chances. "We would really like to see it banned for everybody, people of all ages," Miller said.
The two women have been advocating against suspect chemicals since the 1990s, addressing groups of parents as well as breast cancer survivors on Long Island and elsewhere.
They draw crowds interested in an array of compounds contained in numerous products: shower curtains, carpeting, plastic containers and cosmetics. Most recently, they were champions of the bill that led to New York's new law and were instrumental in getting lawmakers to focus on the bill.
Each had written legislators asking for a vote favoring the ban. Last year, they supported a similar measure in Suffolk County, which became the nation's first jurisdiction to ban children's products with the compound.
BPA is a chemical additive used for more than 50 years in the production of epoxy resins, such as the linings of food cans. It's found in hard polycarbonate plastics that are molded into products such as dental work, infant pacifiers and water bottles. BPA makes up the slickening agent on cash register receipts and is the chemical that makes fragrances in some perfumes linger longer.
"It's everywhere," Weinberg said. Federal studies, she said, indicate people of all ages in the United States carry BPA residues in their blood.
As environmental advocates, Miller and Weinberg are a familiar team. "They were very focused last year on getting that bill passed in Suffolk County," said Donald Hassig, director of Cancer Action New York, which is trying to prevent dioxins from being dumped in upstate waterways. "They are very serious about their advocacy."
Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) credited activists - including Miller and Weinberg - with aiding the BPA bill's passage. Englebright authored the measure.
In the 1990s, the two women were leading supporters of a large study examining whether the environment plays a role in breast cancer on Long Island. Scientists at the time found no evidence that four suspected toxic chemicals - the pesticide DDT, the pesticides chlordane and dieldrin, and the industrial insulators known as PCBs - or electromagnetic fields played a significant role in breast cancer here.
The advocates have since broadened their focus to include "questionable chemicals from everyday sources," which Weinberg describes as additives in a range of common products.
BPA is one of their targets because it acts as a weak estrogen. Any chemical with such estrogenic effects is defined as an endocrine disrupter because of its capacity to interfere with normal hormone function. Weinberg noted that disrupters have been linked to early puberty in girls and testicular problems in boys.
The American Cancer Society isn't convinced BPA is carcinogenic, but several government agencies have launched safety studies.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January expressed concern about the potential "effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children." The agency is sponsoring studies to clarify how BPA might cause harm. Last year, the federal Endocrine Disruption Act authorized the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to initiate research on hormone disruption that can affect children before they're born.