Bisphenol-A: The Role of the Citizen
of studies have been conducted on BPA and its effects on animals, yet a
definitive, unassailable conclusion has yet to emerge. However, out of the confusion around the
complex and contradictory scientific database on BPA, a growing group of concerned
scientists and citizens has emerged that wields a considerable amount of
power. Sparking the movement,
independent researchers and watchdog groups have lead the attack on the FDA and
its policy that assures the safety of BPA. Reproductive toxicologist Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri
is the most prominent of individual researchers. His research has brought about a kind of
toxicology “paradigm inversion.” This
somewhat controversial idea suggests that a chemical’s most adverse effects
occur at the smallest dosage levels (see figure 2 below). This idea goes against common sense and has turned
toxicology as it is currently know it on its head. Furthermore, it casts doubt on much of the
research used by the FDA in its policy making because the science behind the
FDA’s policy did not test for adverse health effects that could occur at minute
Figure 1: The figure on the left describes the traditional linear
toxicology model; as the toxin's dosage increases, the effects from the
toxin increase. The figure on the right describes vom Saal's
model; the largest effects of the toxin do not occur at the largest
Image courtisy of Environment California.
up vom Saal’s revolutionary idea, independent researchers began testing for
adverse BPA effects in animals at varying dosage levels including minute parts
per trillion dosages. 90% of these low-dosage
studies conducted by researchers outside of the industry, including the
Environmental Working Group and vom Saal himself, concluded that BPA at current
human exposure levels poses risks to human development.
to generating widespread consumer awareness of the controversy around the FDA’s
BPA policy are environmental watchdog groups such as the Environmental Working Group
environmental advocacy organizations such as Environment
California. These organizations
have been conducting their own independent research and then translating their research
conclusions into digestible news stories and blogs. These efforts to reach out to consumers have
been successful in communicating the problems of the FDA’s stance to consumers. These organizations have been successful in educating
consumers about the possible health risk associated with the consumption of
BPA. And, once consumers were given this
information and made aware of the controversies, they rose up and have been
able to wield their own kind of power to create change around the use of BPA.
Power over Retailers
consumer power can be seen acting in two ways.
First, groups that unite consumers and organize them into a cohesive
movement have had the ability to amass significant amounts of power to generate
change. The consumer group Ecopledge whose
mission is “Uniting
citizens to protect the environment from irresponsible corporate behavior,” was
a significant player in pressuring the water-bottle manufacturer Nalgene to
phase out the use of BPA in its products. Ecopledge’s Detox
Nalgene campaign used consumer and retailer organizing to educate
Nalgene users about BPA and applied pressure to Nalgene by sending mass
quantities of emails, written letters, and messages tucked inside old Nalgene
bottles. Ecopledge succeeded when
Nalgene announced on April 18, 2008 that in response to consumer demand,
Nalgene will phase out production of its line of polycarbonate containers that
include BPA over the next several months.
Steven Silverman, general manager of the Nalgene business stated on
Nalgene’s website, “Based on all available scientific evidence, we continue to
believe that Nalgene products containing BPA are safe for their intended use.
However, our customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives and we
acted in response to those concerns.”
second way consumer power is being wielded is through their voting power as
they “vote” in consumer polls by purchasing items that they support while
refraining from buying items they do not.
The pressure created by this has lead both Canadian and American Wal-Marts
to recently phase out the sale of baby bottles, pacifiers, sippy cups, food
containers, and water bottles containing BPA.
Already, before this ban, retailers have reported that BPA-free baby
bottle purchases have gone up five times despite the fact they cost four times as
much as bottles containing BPA.
response to both Nalgene and Wal-Mart’s decisions to no longer sell products
containing BPA, the plastic and BPA industry was outraged. In an April 18, 2008 press conference, a
representative of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group working on
behalf of BPA producers, angrily said in response of the action taken by
retailers, “The retailers did not need to do that and take the place of the
successes of citizen groups and consumer power in forcing distributors to halt
the sale of products that contain BPA is significant in light of the fact that
FDA policy still allows for the use of BPA.
on the State Level
Because of inaction on the federal
level, actions are being taken on the state level to set bans on BPA containing
products that are indented for use by infants and children or when safer
alternative to BPA are available.
Currently, Minnesota, California,
and New York
have pending state bills banning BPA.
Minnesota’s campaign to
ban BPA has been driven by the Health Legacy Coalition. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG)
has been working with Health Legacy through its own campaign – Detox Minnesota – to get the 2008 Minnesota state legislature to pass a bill
known as the Safe Baby Products Act.
This bill would phase out bisphenol-a (among a few other known toxins)
from products intended for children under age 3.
To create public awareness
and support for this bill, MPIRG’s campaign has primarily reached out to
college and university, but it is also currently working to create more
widespread awareness by writing op-ed pieces (click here
for recent MPIRG newspaper article) in local newspapers and using phone banks
to educate citizens. In addition to
simply creating BPA awareness among citizens, MPIRG’s campaign also asks the
public to contact state and local representatives about their concerns around
message of this campaign is simple and does not delve into the controversy
around the science behind the FDA’s decision, nor does it look into possible
corporate involvement and corruption.
Instead, to generate awareness and concern, and to call citizens to
action, the message relayed by MPIRG’s Detox Minnesota campaign is that “the
ban on bisphenol-a is necessary because BPA is a known toxic chemical that is unnecessarily
used in millions of household product, that people, especially the most
vulnerable children, come into contact with daily.”
this simple message holds truth and is enough understanding to spur many
citizens to action, the remainder of this website will delve deeper into the
complex controversy surrounding the FDA’s continued support of BPA that
citizens are responsible for shedding light upon.