BPA

BPA Safe: Yet Another Scientifically Unfounded Environmentalist Scare Bites the Dust

European Food Safety Authority finds "no consumer health risk from bisphenol-A exposure."

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BPA products
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The hyper-precautionary European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)  just issued a comprehensive analysis of the safety of dietary exposures to bisphenol-A (BPA)  that finds "no consumer health risk from bisphenol-A exposure." BPA is a compound that is used to soften various plastics including those in water bottles and the linings of canned food containers. For years, environmental activists have been pushing the scientifically dubious low-dose endocrine disruptor hypothesis in which trace exposures to some synthetic chemicals deleteriously upsets the balance of sex hormones in the human body. Among other things, endocrine disruption due to exposure to synthetic chemicals supposedly causes lower sperm counts, deformed penises, and early breast development in girls.

Not so, says the EFSA. The agency's press release states: 

EFSA's comprehensive re-evaluation of bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and toxicity concludes that BPA poses no health risk to consumers of any age group (including unborn children, infants and adolescents) at current exposure levels. Exposure from the diet or from a combination of sources (diet, dust, cosmetics and thermal paper) is considerably under the safe level (the "tolerable daily intake" or TDI).

The accompanying fact sheet notes:

BPA poses no health risk to consumers because current exposure to the chemical is too low to cause harm.

Based on new data and methodologies, EFSA has lowered the estimated safe level, known as the tolerable daily intake (TDI), to 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day. This is twelve and a half times lower than the previous level.

The highest estimates for aggregated exposure to BPA from both dietary and non-dietary sources are 3 to 5 times lower than the TDI—depending on the age group.

Dietary exposure is from 4 to 15 times lower than previously estimated by EFSA, depending on the age group.

The EFSA determined the new safe level (TDI) by multiplying the old human exposure standard by six yielding a highly precautionary overall uncertainty factor of 150—basically lowering the exposure threshold 150-fold below the Lowest-Observed-Adverse-Effect-Level in animal toxicology experiments.

The low-dose endocrine disruptor hypothesis is a chemical scare launched in the mid-1990s by would-be Rachel Carsons in the alarmist book, Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?-A Scientific Detective Story.

In December 2013, a comprehensive review of low-dose endocrine disruptors by researchers published in Toxicology Letters tartly concluded:

Taking into account the large resources spent on this topic, one should expect that, in the meantime, some EDs [endocrine disruptors] that cause actual human injury or disease should have been identified. However, this is not the case. To date, with the exception of natural or synthetic hormones [e.g., contraceptive pills and DES], not a single, man-made chemical ED has been identified that poses an identifiable, measurable risk to human health (the adverse effects of iatrogenic DES were long known before the term endocrine disruptor was coined). Certainly, there has been much media hype about imaginary health risks from bisphenol A, parabens or phthalates. However, no actual evidence of adverse human health effects from these substances has ever been established. To the contrary, there is increasing evidence that their health risks are absent or negligible – or imaginary.

Given that there is essentially no evidence for the ubiquity of low-dose endocrine disruption, why is it still an issue for activists? The researchers note:

The hypothesis of and subsequent search for man-made (synthetic), chemical EDs in the environment, food or personal care products began in the early 1990s. Up to date, this research has spent hundreds of millions of Euros or Dollars of tax payer's money. In the EU alone, more than 150 million Euros have been spent on research into potential health risks of EDCs (Jensen and van Vliet, 2012). Given this large amount of research funding there may also be a vested interest of scientists in the ED field to keep the ED hypothesis on the agenda in order to stay in business.

To its credit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to give into the scaremongering over BPA:

FDA acknowledges the interest that many consumers have in BPA. FDA has performed extensive research and reviewed hundreds of studies about BPA's safety. We reassure consumers that current approved uses of BPA in food containers and packaging are safe.

Sadly, evidence rarely changes the minds of activists, so we can expect to see billions more wasted on research and regulation of low-dose endocrine disruptors.

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  1. The hypothesis of and subsequent search for man-made (synthetic), chemical EDs in the environment, food or personal care products began in the early 1990s. Up to date, this research has spent hundreds of millions of Euros or Dollars of tax payer’s money. In the EU alone, more than 150 million Euros have been spent on research into potential health risks of EDCs (Jensen and van Vliet, 2012). Given this large amount of research funding there may also be a vested interest of scientists in the ED field to keep the ED hypothesis on the agenda in order to stay in business.

    Well, well, well. I wonder if Jackand Ace will show up and tell us that this isn’t possible, because things like this require one to believe in a grand conspiracy among all the participants.

    1. Just like with global warming, the Lipid Hypothesis, aspartame scares, salt hysteria, and EU banning of pesticides in response to bee colony collapses, it only took a few hucksters to get the ball rolling. After that basic economics and human psychology took over.

      1. Hasn’t every artificial sweetener had a health scare? For example, saccharin used to give you cancer back in the 80’s and 90’s.

      2. You know what would be a good study? The effect of safer food storage on the long term development of the human immune system. No joke. The ballance of “everything I encounter is safe” with “I am prepared to encounter unsafe things due to my awesome 1d20 immuno armor.”

        You could start with Doctors and nurses for a smaller study of the principle.

        1. The “hygiene hypothesis”, at least as it relates to allergies, has been around a long time. I’d also like to see how it impacts us psychologically. Do we actually feel safer now than in the past? Or are we more likely to be unnecessarily terrified of what we eat?

          Full disclosure: I’m pretty much willing to eat anything that is sold as food in any culture.

          1. I will put almost anything in my mouth at least once.

  2. I liked how the manufacturers started making products with BPC instead, not because there was any reason to believe it was safer (or that either were unsafe of course), but because it hadn’t been tested for anything yet. And people bought them happily as BPA safe bottles.

    1. Yeah, this study is too little, too late. A lot of manufacturers already switched to more expensive alternatives. I still have an original Nalgene BPA liter bottle, though. Those things are nigh indestructible.

    2. This sack of sugar is fat free!

  3. Among other things, endocrine disruption due to exposure to synthetic chemicals supposedly causes lower sperm counts, deformed penises, and early breast development in girls.

    OK, I was gonna make a “bug, or feature” joke, but I think it falls off the creepy cliff because of the last one.

    1. STEVE SMITH EAT MANY BPA BOTTLES. NO HAVE DEFORMED MEMBER OR LOW COUNT!

      1. STEVE SMITH COUNT IS UNCOUNTABLY INFINITE.

  4. IIRC, this week’s econtalk with Nassim Taleb had a mention on using the precautionary principle on BPA. Can’t find the reference at the moment, though. Maybe it was something else, but just recently.

    It was rather discrediting, I thought.

  5. SG: I am curious: It is possibly the case the Nassim Taleb has always been a precautionary principle freak? In other words, “black swans” are just another excuse to impose controls on activities merely because a proponent cannot prove a negative?

    1. I just downloaded that episode and haven’t listened to it yet. NO SPOILERS!!!

    2. Hmmm… precautionary principle eh?

      In other words, “black swans” computer models are just another excuse to impose controls on economic activities merely because a proponent cannot prove a negative AGW?

      *adjusts monocle, lifts eyebrow at RB*

    3. The way he is using “Black Swan” just seems to be “there’s a bunch of unknown freaky shit out there!” so I think yes.

      Really Black Swan theory just says sometimes there are things that have unknown probabilities but very catestrophic consequences. You can say that pretty much about ANYTHING though. You can call any wild speculation you can come up with a “Black Swan”.

      Running a particle accelerator might create a black hole that would destroy the earth. It’s POSSIBLE. BLACK SWAN!!!

      Geneticly engineering a tomato might produce a planet destroying super weed. It’s possible ….. BLACK SWAN!!!!!!!

      1. Feynman had a great answer…the balance of probabilities. (ok, technically not his but he covered it a lot in his lectures to address outliers)

    4. I haven’t paid enough attention to know.

      But this was a fun response

  6. Don’t conflate “endocrine disruptor” with “BPA.” BPA is an endocrine disruptor but far from the only one- it’s actually pretty wimpy with a relatively low ER binding affinity. Ironically, one of the popular BPA-free plastics that replaced polycarbonate is indeed BPA-free, but its leachates have a higher ER binding affinity than BPA.

    But hey, BPA-free!

    1. As I reread this, I feel even more strongly that Ron really messed this one up in that last sentence. Disappointing, he’s usually pretty good, but I wonder if he talked to any of the EDC researchers beyond the BPA-scare folks like vom Saal and Coburn.

      1. OMWC: I am VERY familiar with the work of vom Saal and Coburn. May I ask you to please read the Toxicology Letters article to which I link in the article.

        I will add, I have a fairly extensive discussion of the endocrine disruption hypothesis as an example of “pathological science” in my forthcoming book, The End of Doom (St. Martin’s this summer).

        1. my forthcoming book

          Ohh boy!

          /I didn’t know any Reason writers wrote books?

        2. I didn’t say you weren’t familiar with vom Saal and Coburn (in fact, if you reread my comment, I said exactly the opposite), but when you say (in essence) “Low-dose BPA seems to show no hazard, therefore low-dose endocrine disrupting chemicals are no hazard,” then you don’t actually understand the field you’re writing about.

          If you change the last sentence to just reflect BPA and not EDCs in general, I would have no disagreement with you.

          1. And yes, I did read the Tox Letters paper sometime before you cited it.

            BPA is ONE particular chemical. ONE.

            1. Oooooo… there is more than one nasty chemical. Maybe there might be synergistic effects between combinations of nasty chemicals that could possibly cause something undesireable. We really need to ban any possibly nasty chemical I can think of that might have a synergistic effect with any other nasty chemical(s) until all of the possible combinations have been tested on unborn children and proven to have no effect whatsoever.

              Because – the Precautionary Principle.

              It is all about telling scary stories (i.e., “narratives”), in order to control people.

              1. Banning is a different question than researching. That conflation isn’t useful.

                1. The PP says that we should not allow something that is scary until it is proven to be non-scary. I would call that a ban. The eternal employment of people who can’t actually produce anything useful, to evaluate every scary story, is a very useful feature of the PP. Sort of like the way that we have enormous numbers of govt bureaucrats who argue about the exact number of pieces of paper that are lawful to determine whether a non-citizen can be allowed to work – not too many, not too few, just the right number, which can never be defined.

                  More progressive craziness chasing false fears, false narratives, and creating more heat than light.

            2. when you say (in essence) “Low-dose BPA seems to show no hazard, therefore low-dose endocrine disrupting chemicals are no hazard,” then you don’t actually understand the field you’re writing about.

              Bailey specifically quotes the Toxicology Letters: To date, with the exception of natural or synthetic hormones, not a single, man-made chemical ED has been identified that poses an identifiable, measurable risk to human health.

  7. “…one should expect that, in the meantime, some EDs [endocrine disruptors] that cause actual human injury or disease should have been identified.”

    That was precisely my own logic, considering my generation was the
    canned vegetable/soup largest consumer. It is quite another thing, to not take precautionary measures with your own children. That is after all, the psychology that drives most consumers. And markets know dam well how to manipulate our psychosis. If products can still be manufactured with the lowest TDI possible then, what is the gripe?

    “Sadly, evidence rarely changes the minds of activists, so we can expect to see billions more wasted on research and regulation of low-dose endocrine disruptors.”

    Cheer up, if most of the research is conducted in Europe, we’ll just say thank you, or no thank you. I drink my beer in bottles, or pour it in a glass.

  8. Sadly, evidence rarely changes the minds of activists

    See: Climate Change Alarmism, Gun Control, Rape Kulture, etc.

  9. This new finding is pure self-serving propaganda put out by big toxic corporate industries, such as the makers of petroleum oil products, pesticides, GMO, toxicants (eg lead, mercury), etc, and their allied mass media – to avoid culpability for the enormous damage and destruction they have been causing upon both people and environment.

    An fitting example of this denial and corruption is that for many years it had been known to science that low dose medical x-rays cause cancer, in particular breast cancer (source: Rolf Hefti’s ‘The Mammogram Myth’ – more info at http://www.supplements-and-hea…..grams.html ), but the huge medical business keeps telling the public that x-ray exposure is a tiny risk. It’s total hype.

    Today, the field of “science” research is the marketing department of massive, mostly self-serving, corporate industries, so you get mostly “scientific” studies are highly biased, fabricated, flawed junk. Discrediting dissenters of the official ideology of lies is part of the mode of operation of these criminal cartels, or their disciples.

    1. “Sadly, evidence rarely changes the minds of activists, so we can expect to see billions more wasted on research and regulation of low-dose endocrine disruptors.”

  10. It’s important to distinguish between plastic sports bottles, commonly referred to as “plastic bottles” or “water bottles,” and actual plastic single-serving water bottles, which in the U.S. are almost always made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. These single-serving PET water (and soda and juice) bottles do not contain BPA and never have. You can learn more info at http://www.petresin.org.

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