Regulation of the Day 140: Plastic

“Plastics are the future,” a pushy relative told a young Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Was he giving career advice — or a warning? After all, some environmental activists think that plastics are responsible for diseases ranging from attention deficit disorder to cancer.

The specific culprit of mankind’s impending doom is Bisphenol A. Called BPA for short, it is a chemical added to plastics to make them harder. BPA is a very common chemical. It’s in everything from laptop computers to CDs to pens.

Activists say that BPA “disrupts hormones and alters genes, programming a fetus or child for breast or prostate cancer, premature female puberty, attention deficit disorders and other reproductive or neurological disorders.”

They are calling for bans and other regulations to limit peoples’ BPA exposure.

Scary stuff. But there is a problem with this bed-wetting level of hysteria; there hasn’t exactly been a rash of death and disease attributable to BPA. In fact, breast cancer rates have actually been declining by 2 percent per year since 1999. The FDA notes that “current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not pose an immediate health risk.”

Still, people do scare easily. The very word “chemical” sends chills down the spines of otherwise rational people. Activists can take advantage of these hot buttons to draw attention to their issues and increase their budgets. Scaring people is good for business.

There are ways to fight back. One is by reading my CEI colleague Angela Logomasini’s excellent work debunking the BPA scare. Another is to join a new Facebook group called “Hands Off My Plastic Stuff!!