On Thursday, Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection discussed a proposed ban on BPA, a chemical commonly used in products from bicycle helmets to CDs to can linings that help prevent food spoilage and botulism. Environmental activists, pushing for a ban on the chemical due to its supposed link to various health problems, swarmed the event claiming that “the science” points to human health risks from BPA. It’s the latest chapter in a years-long crusade to vilify a chemical that scientists and government regulators around the world agree has not been proven harmful.
Right on cue, one of these environmental groups, the Toxics Action Network, released a report last week on a compilation of recent studies on BPA, a move meant to convince Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection to ban the chemical. The report cites 75 out of 81 studies that “conclude that humans are exposed to BPA or that there are one or more adverse health impacts associated with exposure to BPA.” It’s the same sort of scare tactic used by other groups for years to try to ban the chemical and, like all the others before it, doesn’t come close to telling the whole story of BPA.
To start with, the fact that humans are exposed to BPA is no big surprise — we’ve known that for years. With today’s state-of-the-art analytical technology, we can find even the smallest trace amounts of any chemical. Recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bio-monitoring studies did find that Americans are ex-posed to minuscule amounts of BPA, but it also found that we are exposed to minuscule amounts of a spectrum of far more worrisome chemicals including lead, mercury and compounds in tobacco smoke, which do present a real health threat.
While environmental activists believe the presence of any chemical is a reason to eliminate its use, the real issue is whether chemicals, such as BPA, have any human health effects at the detected levels. Although some of the studies TAN refers to in its report link BPA to adverse health effects at lower levels, they are the same studies that activists have been pointing to as “evidence” for years. However, scientists, including those at the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration, have pointed out serious weaknesses and inaccuracies in these studies, meaning that their results can hardly be called conclusive.
The citizens of Maine should not rely on the Toxics Action Network for its information. Government agencies worldwide, including the FDA, have already reviewed all the science on BPA, including those indicating adverse health effects, and have found no reason to ban the chemical. In fact, Joshua Sharfstein, the principal deputy commissioner of the FDA, confirmed the agency’s view on the safety of BPA at a news briefing last January, asserting, “If we thought it was unsafe, we would be taking strong regulatory action.” Sharfstein is a part of what is considered to be one of the most risk-averse FDA administrations in recent history
Nevertheless, environmental activists claim to know what’s best for Maine, and they get that message across by whipping up hysteria every time a new report on BPA exposure comes out, including the most recent on BPA showing up in trace amounts in store receipts, according to a report released by the Environmental Work-ing Group. What this issue warrants is a real discussion on risks versus benefits, followed by real analysis of risks versus benefits of any chemical that would replace BPA — a chemical that performs many functions, is well understood and has been tested for 50 years. No possible substitute has anything close to BPA’s long safety record.
As Allyssia Finley points out in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “environmentalists have subverted serious discussion of the issue — and are on track to create another green scare,” even though regulators have confirmed again and again the safety of BPA.
It’s time to get rational about BPA.
Jeff Stier is the associate director of The American Council on Science and Health.