BPA in Plastics: Environmentalist Straw-Man?

BPA in Plastics: Environmentalist Straw-Man?The plastics industry makes BPA, which is the abbreviation for bisphenol A. This plastics substance has been used since the 1950s for, as Marianne Smith Edge, the International Food Information Council’s Senior Vice President of Nutrition and Food Safety, says, preventing “the corrosion of cans…It’s used to prevent contamination of foods…BPA packaging [serves] as an important food safety vehicle in protecting foods from pathogens and contaminates.”

And yet, since 2008 this substance, which is manufactured by such well-established and trusted commercial science giants as Dow Chemical, Momentive, and Bayer, has been controversial. Some scientists and environmentalist groups have said that research indicates that “the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children” may be harmed by exposure to BPA (in the words of the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health).

Many consumer activist groups and consumers have extrapolated from this allegedly scientific concern to conclude that any BPA in the adult human body is toxic, and the suspicion has been put forth that BPA can cause infertility and prostate cancer in men, emotional and hormonal imbalances and breast cancer in women, and even “gender confusion” in adolescent boys and very young men. These people insist that if BPA isn’t going to be criminalized by the government then individuals must protect themselves and their children by figuring out ways of avoiding the ingestion of and exposure to BPA wherever and whenever possible.

In the early Spring of 2012, FDA denied a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to ban BPA on the grounds there is not enough scientific evidence to call for such a ban. This denial prompted NRDC scientist Sara Janssen to respond:“BPA is a toxic chemical that has no place in our food supply. We believe FDA made the wrong call. The agency has failed to protect our health and safety ­– in the face of scientific studies that continue to raise disturbing questions about the long-term effects of BPA exposures, especially in fetuses, babies and young children.”

Famed ketchup and pickle maker Heinz has been using BPA-free coatings for its Nurture baby formula cans since 2009 while such corporate food producer as ConAgra, General Mills, and the Campbell Soup Company have been reducing or entirely phasing out the use of BPA in their packaging and canned goods since around that very same time. Many state governments in the U.S. have since outlawed the use of BPA in babies’ and small children’s sippy cups.

Advocates for banning BPA have argued that FDA in the United States should follow the same path as the government agencies in Canada, France, the European Union, and Japan have. They have outlawed the use of BPA in their nations.

But Dr. Mitchell Cheeseman, a long-standing member on the staff of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, said in response to those governments’ actions: “Risk managers in each of those countries have chosen to take action against BPA without consideration of the risk assessments they’ve received from their own scientists.”

Dr. Justin Teeguarden, Senior Scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA, shares Cheeseman’s viewpoint. “The France ban has been blocked by objections from six European countries,” he points out.

FDA has stated in a brief: “Researchers fed pregnant rodents 100 to 1,000 times more BPA than people are exposed to through food, and could not detect the active form of BPA in the fetus eight hours after the mother’s exposure. People of all ages process and rid their bodies of BPA faster than the rodents used as test animals do.”

Dr. Teeguarden shares the same take on the matter of BPA. Pointing out that labeling something “toxic” is deceptive because “everything is toxic” if it’s ingested in a high enough concentration of if there is massive enough exposure to it, he said of the FDA research (which was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency) “That particular study exposed those [rodents] to 250,000 times more BPA than even highly exposed humans get.”

“In the end, the concentrations [of bioactive BPA] in the blood that we calculate are 1,000 to 1 million times lower than the levels that would be required to bind the various estrogen receptors that are believed to cause BPA toxicity and endocrine disruption,” Dr. Teeguarden has also stated. He led a research project the results of which completely refuted the negative claims being made about adolescent and adult exposure to current BPA levels. “It doesn’t bio-accumulate in the fat tissues, and it washes out very quickly from our bodies so there’s no risk of accumulating this material over time. The stuff is 99.9 percent metabolized when you ingest it. It’s washed out of your body within five to eight hours.”

Jeff Stier, director of the conservative think-tank Risk Analysis Division at the National Center for Public Policy Research, applauds FDA’s refusal to entertain the petition from the NRDC. He has stated: “The risk-averse FDA would not have left a product on the market if it were dangerous, as NRDC has been claiming. At this point, this issue should be laid to rest. The federal government has spent tens of millions of dollars investing in research on BPA, already one of the most well-studied chemicals on earth, and the FDA has squandered its limited resources on multiple safety assessments, including the one litigated by NRDC.”

BPA is most abundant in plastics (including plastics used in medical and science lab settings) and in the lining of aluminum cans. And it is, indeed, one of the most heavily researched substances in the world.

About the author: Erik Dries has extensive experience working with urethane sheets for multiple applications. He enjoys sharing his experiences on various blogs.

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