Canada has announced it will ban the chemical bisphenol A—known as BPA—which is used to make plastic water and baby bottles.
The head of the Canadian environmental group Environmental Defence is thrilled:
"Kudos to the federal government. ... We look forward to seeing BPA legally designated as 'toxic' as soon as possible."
But the evidence doesn't actually show that BPA is toxic. Europe's equivalent of the FDA concluded: "(T)he data currently available do not provide convincing evidence of neurobehavioral toxicity."
Richard Sharpe of the University of Edinburgh explained:
"Some early animal studies produced results suggesting the possibility of adverse effects relevant to human health, but much larger, carefully designed studies in several laboratories have failed to confirm these initial studies."
The initial studies injected BPA into animals, rather than giving it by mouth, which is how we humans are exposed. Since BPA degrades in the gut when we consume it, very little gets to our cells.
Yet many people are sure BPA causes not only breast and prostate cancer but also obesity, diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity, autism, liver disease, ovarian disease, disease of the uterus, low sperm count, and heart disease. When a chemical is said to cause so many disorders, that's a sure sign of unscientific hysteria. But a documentary called Tapped says it's true. It quotes experts claiming "BPA may be one of the most potent toxic chemicals known to man."
Nonsense. Not only is there no good evidence that BPA locked into plastic can hurt people, it actually saves lives by stopping botulism.
"Since BPA became commonplace in the lining of canned goods, food-borne illness from canned foods—including botulism—has virtually disappeared," says the American Council of Science and Health.
You never hear the good news about BPA in the mainstream media. Fear-mongering gets better ratings.
Tapped also asserts that other dangerous chemicals poison bottled water. In the film, toxicologist Dr. Stephen King says that we should be "horrified" at all those chemicals. But when we called King, he sent us a study saying "testing" reveals a surprising array of chemical contaminants in every bottled water brand analyzed—at levels no different from those routinely found in tap water.
Tapped claims cancer rates are up because of these chemicals, but that's another myth. Cancer incidence rates are flat. They would have declined if not for new screening methods. Life spans are up, too.
Not every mom has fallen for the BPA scare. "Truth or Scare," the blog of a woman who calls herself "Junk Science Mom," recently called out one of the people behind the anti-BPA campaign: scaremonger/hustler David Fenton:
"If you believe what you see and hear in the media, those fighting an unnecessary battle against bisphenol-A (BPA) are altruistic individuals concerned about health and safety. ... But there is an ugly truth behind the scenes that you will never hear about in the media. Greed, propaganda, political agendas, profits, lies and scams. And it all can be tied to one person and one powerful PR firm. David Fenton and Fenton Communications. ...
"He is the puppet master, and we moms are his puppets. He orchestrates the scare, and we, being fearful for our children, unknowingly carry out his plan for him. He comes out a winner, and we are duped into wasting our time, money and energy fighting a battle that never needed to be fought."
Good for you, Junk Science Mom, whoever you are. "Truth or Scare" is a wonderful addition to the debate.
But if BPA isn't toxic, why will Canada ban it? And why have Connecticut and Minnesota already done so? Because scientifically illiterate legislators are quick to panic. When the media sensationalize, legislators respond. Two FDA scientists—Ronald J. Lorentzen and David G. Hattan—note the bias toward sensationalism: "The disquieting public invocations made by some ... about the perils of exposure (to BPA) ... galvanize the public debate."
When even notoriously risk-averse FDA scientists speak out against the BPA panic, the scaremongers must have gone absurdly far.
John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at johnstossel.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.
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