December 27 2012
As the year winds down, it’s a good time to look back at what was one of the biggest alarm stories of the year: the alleged health impact of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). Were the claims true, and what might we expect to happen in 2013?
In 2012, news headlines were awash with faulty claims about dangers lurking in food, cosmetics, cleaning products, and even cash register receipts — all allegedly posed by BPA. Green groups targeted their message to women, who were — and continue to be--barraged with one-sided stories suggesting that BPA containers pose a serious threat to our children.
These activists claim that BPA is an “endocrine disrupter” — a chemical that affects human hormone systems. Supposedly, it impacts human development starting in the womb and eventually leads to everything from breast cancer, heart disease, obesity, and more. But as IWF scholars have explained many times on Inkwell and elsewhere, women should be wary of such hype.
Manufacturers have used BPA for more than 60 years to make hard, clear plastics and resins that line food containers, and there are no documented cases of BPA-related illnesses from consumer exposures. Research shows that the human body quickly metabolizes and passes out trace-levels of BPA found in food, producing no adverse health effects. Comprehensive studies conducted by researchers from the World Health Organization, United States, European Union, Canada, Japan, and other places have deemed the current uses of BPA safe.
Rather than focus on these comprehensive reviews, greens continue to cite random and largely inconclusive studies that claim to “link” BPA to health problems. But many of these studies are more akin to junk science than hard science as they simply don’t have good data to assess BPA exposures. In fact, researchers highlighted this problem in a recent article in the journal PLOS One.
Nonetheless, governments have already begun taking action on BPA merely to alleviate anxieties generated by environmental activists rather than to address legitimate public health problems. For example, following Canada’s lead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned BPA use in baby bottles and sippy cups this year even though it deemed those uses safe. And the French recently have banned its use in food packaging.
If there is anything to fear, it’s the regulations that may result from the hype. In fact, products that replace BPA may not be any safer and in some cases may be more dangerous.
Ironically, earlier this year, researchers pointed out that the chemical used to replace BPA for plastic baby bottles and reusable water bottles, known as Bisphenol S (BPS), is actually a more potent “endocrine disrupter” and that the human body does not metabolize BPS as easily!
Fortunately, there are many reasons to doubt that trace exposures to BPS — or any synthetic chemical for that matter — could have significant hormonal effects. Synthetic chemicals simply are not potent enough. Consider the fact that natural substances in our diets that we consume every day — such as soy, almonds and a variety of legumes — contain endocrine mimicking” substances that are tens of thousands of times more potent than synthetic chemicals! And we all know, soy and nuts aren’t only safe — they are pretty good for you.
Accordingly while BPS plastic alternatives probably are no more dangerous than BPA, they certainly are not any safer.
Other options are potentially more dangerous. For example, greens suggest glass, but who could seriously deem it safer? We all know the risks associated with broken glass. Indeed, children face far higher risks from cuts and subsequent infections than they do from a trace chemical that has been used for decades without any documented adverse health impacts.
Bans on BPA resins that line cans may pose more serious risks. Specifically, BPA resinsline food containers — from soup to soda cans — to prevent the spread of deadly pathogens like E-coli. Manufacturers pointed out in the Washington Post that there aren’t any good alternatives for this use. Accordingly, bans that force us to buy inferior alternatives may mean increased food-borne illnesses.
Now that’s something to worry about.
Logomasini serves as a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.