Alarmist claims about the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) have reached an absurd level. According to the website Treehugger.com, a new study shows that exposure to BPA can make humans lazy and eventually obese from lack of exercise. Such claims continue to populate the Internet thanks to taxpayer funded junk-science studies about this chemical.
BPA has been used safely for more than five decades to make hard clear plastics (polycarbonate plastics) and epoxy resins that line the inside of steel and aluminum cans. There are no verified cases of anyone suffering ill effects from BPA exposure from consumer products, and numerous comprehensive scientific reviews have found BPA safe at current typical exposure levels.
For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded earlier this year that "BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods," and the European Food Safety Authority "concluded that BPA poses no health risk to consumers of any age group (including unborn children, infants, and adolescents) at current exposure levels."
Yet activists keep an alarmist anti-BPA drumbeat alive by trumping up small and often poorly designed studies that allege potential health effects based on questionable data. Many of these studies simply report weak and largely meaningless associations — which do not demonstrate cause and effect — between BPA and various health ailments.
Other studies are based on dosing rodents with massive amounts of BPA — levels that are not relevant to human exposures — to trigger health effects. Moreover, unlike rodents, humans quickly metabolize BPA and pass it out of the body before it can have any effects. The recent study highlighted by Treehugger is another example of one of these irrelevant rodent studies.
These studies continue to pour into the news cycle, thanks in part to funding by the National Environmental Institute Health Sciences, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Between 2010 and 2012, NIEHS doled out at least $172 million on BPA research according to a Citizens Against Government Waste tally.
"The impetus" for this funding, according to NIEHS director Linda Birnbaum, was a "workshop" involving 38 "experts" in BPA science, sponsored by NIEHS, several other federal agencies, and the left-of-center group Commonweal. These researchers met in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2007, where they developed what has become known as the "Chapel Hill Consensus Statement," which calls for more funding of BPA research. Birnbaum attended as an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency before she was appointed to NIEHS in 2009.
The meeting didn't offer an objective review of the issue, but instead brought together like-minded researchers seeking to advance a political agenda. One of those researchers, Frederick vom Saal, has built his career making a host of health claims about BPA using questionable techniques and exaggerating the results.
In fact, vom Saal, who was on the workshop's organizing committee, has advocated for a BPA ban, and is on "a quest to get endocrine disrupters, such as BPA, out of daily use," according to a profile of him in a University of Missouri-affiliated newspaper.
Perhaps not coincidentally, at least 21 of the Chapel Hill Consensus contributors have worked on NIEHS-funded studies addressing BPA risk, including vom Saal, who has coauthored at least 14 such studies. There is an apparent conflict of interest among the Chapel Hill Consensus scientists who stood to gain financially by exaggerating BPA risks in order to build momentum for government support.
In addition to wasting tax dollars, this activist-driven research affects markets and regulation. For example, Target, Walmart and other retailers have introduced programs to pressure suppliers to phase out BPA and other chemicals from consumer products. Similarly, in 2104, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., introduced the Ban Poisonous Additives Act (S. 2572, H.R. 5033), which would ban BPA resins for good packaging.
Yet, calls to ban or phase out BPA ignore the benefits of these products. For example, steel cans were once lined with tin. But tin lining can corrode, compromising the packaging and eventually letting in air and potentially dangerous pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum, which produces deadly toxins.
BPA resins solved this problem in the 1960s, when it was used to coat cans to prevent food contamination from bacteria and rust. This also helped reduce food spoilage, while maintaining food flavor and quality and extending shelf life. Today, unless serious dents perforate a seam and let in air, the risk of contamination in canned foods is very low. In fact, during the past 30 years, there have been no cases of foodborne illness outbreaks related to the failure of can packaging.
It's time to differentiate between science and activist-funded agendas. We can learn from science, but will become victims of bad public policy if we continue to allow government-funded activism.
Angela Logomasini, Ph.D., is a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of a new paper titled, "Government's Unfounded War on BPA: Taxpayer-Funded Scare Campaign Threatens Consumer Interest and Safety." Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.