Activists at the Breast Cancer Fund are scheduled to release a new scaremongering “study” on the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) tomorrow, suggesting that children are at risk from Campbell’s Soup. As part of their “Cans Not Cancer” campaign, the group measured BPA levels in a handful of canned goods and concluded: “There is a toxic chemical lurking in your child’s Campbell’s Disney Princess soup,” and other food products.
Why is the Breast Cancer Fund issuing a report about risk to children? What does that have to do with the cause of fighting breast cancer? Nothing at all. Instead it is part of an irrational anti-chemical campaign to rid the world of a very valuable chemical.
BPA makes transparent, polycarbonate plastics exceptionally strong and resistant to breakage and to relatively high heat. It is remarkably durable and easily sterilized, making it well suited for reuse and recycling and medical applications. BPA is also used to make resins and coatings that are suitable for application to a wide range of surfaces at a wide range of temperatures. As a result, it helps prevent corrosion and increases product durability. Its application in food packaging — lining aluminum and steel cans for example — not only reduces food waste, it prevents the development of dangerous contamination and pathogens in the food supply, providing a key public safety benefit.
The Breast Cancer Fund study should raise eyebrows about the group issuing it–whose name belies its real agenda. The Fund is not designed to offer useful and constructive help for breast cancer sufferers or even help find a cure. It is designed to use legitimate concerns about breast cancer risk to generate fears and advance a misguided anti-chemical agenda. They state the mission as working “to connect the dots between breast cancer and exposures to chemicals and radiation in our everyday environments.”
But the link between chemicals and breast cancer is not significant. Check out the description of risk factors on the American Cancer Society website, which lists the main known risk factors as related to such things as genetics, overeating, tobacco, and delayed childbearing. Chemicals are low on the list of possible risk factors, with the Society noting: “at this time research does not show a clear link between breast cancer risk and exposure to these substances.”
The Breast Cancer Fund hopes to bolster EPA efforts to undermine BPA. EPA would like to regulate and phase out BPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but the law requires that the agency employ sound science to illustrate that a product is actually dangerous before banning it — something EPA has not been able to show for BPA. The Agency advocates legislation that would “modernize” TSCA to eliminate EPA accountability and grant power to regulate even when it is unjustified by the science. But absent TSCA reform, the agency is working on creative ways to undermine chemical technologies. To that end, they are developing a list of “chemicals of concern” with the goal of demonizing chemicals by placing them on a list of “potentially dangerous” substances, which could theoretically include anything. You can add water to that list — because, after all, it can burn, cause you to fall, and even kill you from over-hydration.
The list promises to become little more than a blacklist — prompting companies to eliminate “chemicals of concern” to avoid bad press. In fact, when EPA announced this program, Costco, Walmart, and Target all stated to the press that the list will impact their purchasing decisions, causing them to reduce and perhaps eliminate products containing listed chemicals. Not surprisingly, EPA has also proposed that listed chemicals become part of the agency’s efforts under its “Design for the Environment” program — a “voluntary initiative” that encourages (i.e., pressures) companies to reduce and eliminate the use of certain chemicals. Thus far, EPA’s proposal to list BPA is pending review at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
EPA proceeds with its attempt to blacklist BPA despite the fact that the chemical has already been studied extensively around the world and deemed safe at current public exposure levels—to children and adults– by many scientific bodies. In addition, regulatory bodies around the world have determined that the benefits of using BPA to protect our food and perform other functions outweigh any risks. For details see CEI’s paper on the topic.
Activists still maintain that BPA must be a problem because humans are exposed to considerable amounts through food and consumer products, a fact that is shown by the existence of BPA in human urine. They also point out that some studies show adverse impacts on rodents. However, some rodents cannot metabolize BPA, increasing opportunity to the substance to have some impacts on development and rodent health. The fact that BPA appears in human urine indicates that we do metabolize it quickly, leading little possibility for it to produce adverse impacts. A recent U.S. EPA-funded study underscored the fact that BPA is unlikely to produce health problems in humans. It employed volunteers exposed to relatively high levels of BPA in food and demonstrated that the substance passed quickly through the human system and never rose above levels shown to cause problems in rodents.
EPA’s actions to demonize BPA via listing as a “chemical of concern” and efforts to encourage its phase out are clearly dangerous — to us and our children! Elimination of BPA in food packaging poses particularly serious risk because there are no good alternatives for these uses. Packaging manufactures have been trying to remove BPA from their products because of public pressure, but they are having a very difficult time finding safer alternatives. One industry representative told The Washington Post, “We don’t have a safe, effective alternative, and that’s an unhappy place to be… No one wants to talk about that.”
EPA should not contribute to political pressures from activists that lead to the removal of BPA products. Such policies threaten to increase real risks associated with arbitrarily removing valuable medical tools, greater risks from E. coli or simply the risk of broken glass to children should plastic cups and bottles be replaced with “BPA-Free” glass.