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Environmental Studies

BPA - Controversy Study

Abstract
History
Current Issues

          Government
          Citizen Action
          Analysis

Conclusion
References & Links


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BPA - Controversy Study

Current Issues

–Scientific Debate –

“Standardized Toxicity Tests” & no adverse effect level (NOAEL)

Industry

       Up until this year, the FDA maintained the assertion that BPA was safe based mainly upon two studies which were funded by and industry trade group. These studies used standardized toxicity tests to determine safe levels for toxins. These studies were a response to challenges to BPA by vom Saal in 1997, and representatives of the plastics industry claimed that the results of his test could not be replicated. 

Public Health

       Scientists challenge the significance of “standardized toxicity tests” which assume that testing the safety of chemicals at high doses can be used to predict the effects of low-dose exposures. In 1997 vom Saal publishes a study which linked low-level BPA exposure to prostate cancer. The low dose for this study was 25 times lower that the EPA’s “safe” dose.

       Recently a draft report has been issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel linking BPA to health concerns. Several studies authored by leading researchers in the field: John Peterson Myers, R. Thomas Zoeller, Frederick S. vom Saal & Claude Hughes challenge the significance of “standardized toxicity tests” which assume that testing the safety of chemicals at high doses can be used to predict the effects of low-dose exposures. They challenge the validity of this assumption because it conflicts with well-established principals in endocrinology regarding hormone action . (Myers, Zoeller and vom Saal)

 

Government

        Up until this year, the FDA maintained the assertion that BPA was safe based mainly upon two studies which were funded by and industry trade groups.  Rising public concern coupled with increasing scientific evidence that BPA has a negative effect upon human health has led the FDA to withdraw its support of BPA.  The a NIH and the National Center for Toxicological Research are currently conducting studies, which the FDA will review to inform their new stance on BPA.

       In response to the FDA's about face on BPA, the EPA has made plans to to add BPA to its list of chemicals of concern due to potential adverse impacts on the environment and human and animal health.

Citizen Action

       The increasing uncertainty surrounding the safety of BPA has led consumer safety groups to unite against it.  The Nalgene water bottle company has halted the production of their products that contain BPA.  While they maintain the stance that BPA is not harmful, they have altered their production to satisfy consumer demands.

"Based on all available scientific evidence, we continue to believe that Nalgene products containing BPA are safe for their intended use," a company official said in a statement quoted by the New York Times

"However, our customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives, and we acted i response to those concerns."

         Wal-Mart has halted sales of baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, food containers and water bottles made with BPA. (Read more) This move started in Canada but has been applied to their product lines in the US as well.

Analysis

       The FDA’s change in stance marks a turning point in what has been a long, hard fought battle between activist and industry science. David Michaels, who was a federal regulator in the Clinton administration, was quoted in a Washington Post article from 2008 describing his perspective on the debate..

"Tobacco figured this out, and essentially it's the same model,"

"If you fight the science, you're able to postpone regulation and victim compensation as well.  As in this case. eventually the science becomes overwhelming. But if you can get five of 10 years of avoiding pollution control or production of chemicals, you've greatly increase your product."

"It's not so much because scientists are shaving the truth, but they ask questions in a way to give them the answers the want." (Layton)



       Study of the argument used by each side reveals that this is an issue of scientific method. Industry supports the status-quo, which allows them to continue manufacturing their product. This action by them is one of defense in response to the attack posed by scientists promoting public health, supported by a growing number of activists. The plastic industry stalls the debate at the scientific level for as long as possible, utilizing their capital and political clout to stall and discredit the research of their opponent. As seen in tobacco, the evidence supporting the need to reevaluate how risk is calculated, and the issue becomes a public concern. Once the issue has become mainstream, government regulatory agencies are forced to revisit the issue. At this point the ability of the industry to deny the inevitable begins to fail. 




Figure 3: Artist's concept of the proposed recreational facility



 


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