Greens vs. Science: EPA and Pacific NW National Labs Debunk Another Chemical Scare

August 9, 2011

This year, Washington state became one of nine states to ban a compound known as bisphenol-A or BPA, from a number of children's products. The ban was justified based on concerns that BPA caused a range of problems from hormone disruption to obesity. The concern is that BPA contained in food containers would be ingested and lead to these problems.

The problem is that the science has never been there to justify these concerns. A new study funded by the EPA and conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in the Tri-Cities goes even further to undermine the concerns, showing that even after subjects ate from containers containing BPA, the amount of the compound that actually makes it into the bloodstream is so low it is "below our ability to detect them."

The lead author Justin Teegarden put the results of this study this way:

In a nutshell, we can now say for the adult human population exposed to even very high dietary levels, blood concentrations of the bioactive form of BPA throughout the day are below our ability to detect them, and orders of magnitude lower than those causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA.

The study is quite robust. Joining PNNL were the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The results were also duplicated in two separate government labs. This is critical, as a writeup about the study in Forbes notes, because "CDC, EPA, and FDA researchers have repeatedly noted that even with extreme caution, contamination dogs BPA research, meaning that the levels of the chemical humans are exposed to have been repeatedly exaggerated by a handful of scientists, to support claims of 'human relevant dosing.' "In other words, much of the research used to justify the BPA scare is unreliable and exaggerated.

You can read the whole Forbes article here. I spoke yesterday with PNNL and they actually suggested this writeup, saying the author did a "good job" of describing the results and implications of the study.

With this new information will the Legislature change their decision? Probably not.

First, the value of such chemical bans for politicians is in the "green" image such votes cultivate. Few, if any, legislators can understand all the science, but they do understand politics, and voting to ban a chemical that may harm children is a political win, even if it is meaningless in the real world.

Second, environmental activists and politicians revert to a "better safe than sorry" justification for the rule. This, however, is not only unscientific, it is anti-scientific. The purpose of that approach is specifically to ignore science and data. "Sure the science says there is nothing to worry about, but better safe than sorry." It is an excuse to throw science overboard and go with your gut feeling.

Such chemical scares are not benign. The scare about the relationship between vaccines and autism, which turned out to be forged, led many parents to expose their children to deadly diseases for no reason. Environmentalists have told pregnant women to avoid fish due to concerns about mercury in the fish, despite science demonstrating that eating fish while pregnant improves the IQ of children and their long-term health.

It is unlikely that legislators will admit their mistake. One can hope, however, that this becomes an object lesson the next time legislators face demands to ban the latest chemical environmental activists claim is harming us.