The BPA Myth

On Thursday, April 1, Time published a list of the “ten most common household toxins,” focused on plastics. It claimed, “Chemicals in plastics and other products seem harmless, but mounting evidence links them to health problems — and Washington lacks the power to protect us.” Top of the list was Bisphenol A, or BPA for short.

BPA is an important ingredient in many of the plastic products that have made modern life inexpensive and convenient. BPA is used to make shatterproof water bottles, CDs, food and beverage cans, sporting equipment, eyeglass lenses, and countless medical supplies. Environmentalists argue that it is a toxic substance that should be banned. But there is little scientific evidence that suggests BPA is harmful, and much that suggests it is not.

California provides a good example of how the environmentalists have waged their war. On July 15, 2009, the state’s Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee voted not to list BPA as a reproductive toxicant under the terms of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65). The very same day, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submitted a 327-page petition to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to begin a different process by which BPA could be listed as a reproductive toxicant.

The NRDC petition is pathetically weak. It includes as evidence a 2008 National Toxicology Program (NTP) report that showed no harm to humans from BPA, but called for further study. That study is now under way at the federal level, with the National Institutes of Health spending $30 million on research over the next two years. Neither the petition or the NTP report provides any reason for California to ban the substance before the results of the study come in.

Other evidence favors keeping BPA on the market. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report published in the scholarly journal Toxicological Sciences in October 2009 also showed no harm to humans from BPA.

The state — which is mired in budget crisis — is wasting public funds to indulge the whims of a single special-interest group. Yet it is not just taxpayer money that is at stake. NRDC is sending a message to businesses nationwide: If you use BPA — whether to make toys, eyeglasses, or medical equipment — don’t invest here. For no company will invest in a state — and thus create jobs and expand facilities in that state — if the state is threatening to stop manufacturing in the near future. NRDC’s whim is helping to prolong California’s recession.

Ironically, the same EPA study that found no effect from BPA found significant effects from the oral contraceptive Ethinyl Estradiol. Yet when environmental groups are asked whether they should campaign against contraceptive use, they prevaricate. Curt Cunningham, water-quality-issues chairman for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Sierra Club International, dismissed such demands in 2007, saying, “I suspect people would not take kindly to that. . . . For many people, it’s an economic necessity.” Only ideology can explain such a double standard.

The war against BPA is an unrelenting, well-funded propaganda campaign to disregard science in favor of ideology. Every time science scores a victory, the environmental establishment opens another front. When that fails, the groups try to undermine investment in technologies they oppose. In all of this, they are aided by willing allies in the media, who are only too happy to scare people about some new imagined horror, even if it means keeping those same people out of work. We should condemn Time for joining in the environmentalist assault on science.