Times Ignores Science, Calls for Ban on BPA

May 20, 2008

There are moments when you wonder whether the world is going insane over the wrong health risks. Take BPA. There is no study showing that BPA harms humans or that BPA leaching from baby bottles poses an actual, measurable risk.

The European Union’s Food Safety Authority conducted a risk assessment focusing on the threat to infants in 2006; it was carried out by 21 independent scientists; it raised the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) by a factor of five; in other words, it found BPA considerably safer than it first thought – so safe a mother could give her baby four times the normal number of bottles per day before reaching the threshold of safe consumption (which has an additional safety factor of 100).

The Japanese government also conducted a risk assessment: no risk; a non-profit international consumer safety organization NSF did a risk assessment under the guidance of Calvin Willhite of the California EPA which was published a couple of months ago: again, no risk. The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction did a risk analysis last year, and dismissed most of the risks activists had been complaining about for years; but they did have some concern over certain animal studies. Oddly, these studies and the effects were not the one’s commonly touted by anti-BPA activists. The National Toxicology Program agreed with the CERHR, but said there was no cause for alarm.

One common thread in these risk assessments is that some of the scientific research has been rejected. In fact, the same scientific research keeps getting rejected no matter which country is doing the risk assessment. But the risk assessments explain why, and the reasons range from poor methodology and statistics.

And guess what? Most of the evidence rejected are studies that attributed risks to BPA. The key scientific fact is metabolic. If you inject BPA, the chemical reaction is different than if you ingest it. Thus, are studies which find a risk based on injection relevant to humans? Many experts charged with examining the issue have said no.

Despite this body of evidence – all of which is in the public domain, and all of which is there to be judged by objective statistical standards or interpreted by independent toxicologists with no financial stake in researching BPA good or bad, experts who journalists can actually call up – the media have gleefully taken to speculating that the Food and Drug Administration is engaged in some sort of cover up, a conspiracy influenced by the plastics industry. The decision by Canada to propose a ban on BPA, one that appears to be based more on politics than science, but it has ratcheted up the sense of alar-like panic. Many people would say, better to be safe than sorry: ban that chemical! But doesn’t it strike anyone as peculiar that the one political body which has embraced the precautionary principle with gusto, the European Union, hasn’t banned BPA?

Surely this is an interesting question – or at the very least a pause for thought. But the media remains doggedly unaware of Europe’s position, and it is rarely mentioned in the hundreds of articles on BPA in the past few years.

Which brings us to, the latest example of poisoned-cherry picking, The New York Times Editorial page, which called for a ban on BPA in baby bottles this week. To read the editorial, one would think that nobody has ever wondered about BPA before the Canadian government bravely stepped in to respond to public concern.

Surely, readers deserve editorial writers that do a little bit more in the way of reporting, that are a bit more scientifically savvy, that have the nerve to exercise the journalistic equivalent of the precautionary principle, before igniting panic and telling Congress what it should be doing?

(Again, STATS receives no money from any industry associated with BPA or plastics)


More Scientifically Incorrect Reporting On BPA

May 20, 2008

It’s all BPA all the time in the media, and today’s example of reporters not knowing biological pathways from their elbows comes from the Los Angeles Times. The reporter, who doesn’t appear to be on staff, writes the following about Bisphenol A, or BPA as its known for short, a component of polycarbonate plastic and other products:

The possibly bad news is that BPA doesn’t always stay put. The chemical acts a lot like estrogen if it’s introduced into the body — and evidence now shows that this happens to just about everybody every day.”

Except, it doesn’t! As every risk assessment compiled on BPA notes at some point, BPA is, in fact, rapidly broken down first in the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and then in the liver by enzymes which add a sugar molecule to BPA, transforming it into a water soluble BPA-glucuronide. BPA-glucuronide is, as the European Food Safety Authority’s risk assessment notes, “devoid of endocrine activity.” In other words, once BPA is broken down, it is not estrogenic in the body.

And being water soluble, BPA-glucuronide is easily excreted in urine. This happens very quickly. The half life of BPA-glucuronide is six hours. There is a minor metabolic pathway in which some BPA is converted to a sulfate, but this is also water soluble and quickly excreted as a metabolite. In adult human volunteer studies, no free or parent BPA is found in blood. There is 100 percent conversion to a metabolite.

This is partly the reason why so many of the studies claiming to find a risk from BPA have been rejected by risk assessments in Europe, Japan and the U.S.: they inject BPA into rodents, and the result, metabolically, is different.


Greenpeace Worries About Gender-Bending Xboxes, Wiis and Playstations: Publicity Stunt or Science?

May 20, 2008

It’s tested dildos; it’s examined laptops and iPhones; there is, it seems, nothing Greenpeace won’t do to protect people from chemicals in consumer products; and now it’s out to save the legions of gamers from the plastics, plasticizers and fire retardants in Xboxes Wiis and Playstations, which it suggests could have a deleterious effect on male joysticks, sexual development

One might suggest that spending hours in front of even the greenest gaming system is not going to have a positive effect on sexual development, but that would be a more conceptual take on “development” than a biological one; if you spend all your time gaming on screen, you’re not going to even see the ballpark, let alone make it to first base. Sorry.

In terms of biology, which is what Greenpeace is worried about, the key issue is exposure. If you eat your Wii, chances are there’s going to be some problematic health effects, and they would be in addition to the pre-existing mental illness or stupidity which led you to confuse a games system with food. But the same trivial point can be made of pretty much anything: Don’t eat glass, or bicycles, or paint chippings, or lightbulbs. And don’t throw your Wii in the local river either, if you have the remotest clue about keeping the environment clean.

What Greenpeace has done, as it did with sex toys and laptops and iPhones, is to take the very worst research findings on lab animals and blow them out of context, which is something journalists love, because it’s like having someone write all the boring bits of your story for you, leaving you to think about joysticks double entendres (alas, Computer Weekly couldn’t even be bothered to do that).

But here’s the problem: If you inject a rat with increasingly large doses of a chemical, bad things are increasingly likely to happen. But is that chemical likely to migrate from a console onto your skin and be dermally or orally absorbed in a way that counts as a similar risk to health? In order to have a real, scientific discussion about the toxic risks of game consoles, you’d have to measure exposure, and show that such exposures were likely to have a health impact on humans.

Greenpeace doesn’t do this, because it would mean having to do a real risk assessment instead of simply playing at being scientific and insinuating a danger. Which is why it resorts to such tortured locutions as:

What is clear, however, is that the presence of high levels of phthalates in such materials contribute to overall levels of exposure to these chemicals for users, including children.”

Um, we actually do know how children and adults are exposed to phthalates: it’s overwhelmingly through food and dust. You would have to have a dildo or a Wii in your mouth for hours and hours to generate any appreciable chemical migration. And it’s far from clear what risk that would expose you to (apart from the suggestion that you were taking oral fixation beyond the boundaries of social acceptability. So, pace Greenpeace, it’s not clear at all that these chemicals constitute a risk as used in any of these products. In fact, the likelihood is slim based on the way gamers use games until proven otherwise.

Of course, planting the suggestion that products from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are going to impair sexual function in pre-pubescent and adolescent males is a great way of generating publicity; but until Greenpeace goes from just measuring the chemicals in game consoles to measuring how they are transmitted to the kids using them, and how that constitutes a health risk, that’s all it this latest report is – a publicity stunt.

See, also: Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Says Phthalates Do Not Pose a Risk to Health

Please Note: STATS receives no funding from any manufacturer of computer game consoles or plastics or affiliated industries.


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