Medical Musings: The Industry Needs A Fresh Start on BPA

October 25, 2011

Bisphenol A (BPA) continues to develop as a major public relations problem for the plastics industry. Yesterday's release of a new study about pediatric issues with BPA seemed to create an almost out-of-control publicity streak.

Some reports faithfully relayed results of the study that exposure in the womb to BPA may cause some behavioral and emotional problems in young girls. They noted that the sample size was small and that even the authors weren't clear what, if any, clinical relevance the study had. No impact was seen on boys.

Reports I saw on television reported the headlines with no context and no feedback from the industry, even though the American Chemistry Council promptly issued a detailed release noting shortcomings in the study. Talking heads shook their heads in disgust that these chemicals were still in use.

Some Webs sites of major news organizations went further. For example, CNN reported:

"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other experts have several suggestions for limiting BPA exposure including:

  • Avoid using plastic containers with recycle codes 3 and 7 because they may be made with BPA.
  • Reduce your consumption of canned foods; choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead.
  • Use glass containers to heat foods in the microwave, instead of polycarbonate plastic food containers because high temperatures may break down the chemical and increase the chances of BPA entering your food."

Oddly, recycling code three refers to polyvinyl chloride and seven refers to "all other plastics".  It's not clear why PVC shows up on these lists. In 2008, the Vinyl Institute rebutted an NBC report linking vinyl to BPA. BPA is not used to make vinyl monomers as it is with polycarbonate and epoxy. I've read that BPA has been used as an antioxidant in some plasticizers, and as a polymerization inhibitor in PVC. Even if true, which I don't know, do these minor, possibly random, uses of BPA merit a condemnation of PVC? I doubt it.

And a recommendation to avoid use of all plastic containers classified with a "7" is bizarre. Can you imagine all of the high-value plastics that would be eliminated in such a broad, sweeping gesture?

Eat fresh fruit vegetables instead of canned food? That's always a good idea, but how practical is it as a broadly issued recommendation? It means many people would have dramatically reduced intake of fruit and vegetables in the winter time.

The third point could have merit. I don't know.

The American Chemistry Council has taken a very strong, "take-no-prisoners" approach in its public statements about BPA. And major producers have agreed to let the ACC do all the talking when it comes to BPA.

If the ACC began listening to crisis counselors instead of their members' own management, I wonder if it would be taking a more successful approach to what is becoming a runaway public relations problem threatening the credibility of the overall plastics industry.

Step one might be an acknowledgement that the growing body of scientific evidence does indicate at least a possibility of adverse effects from BPA.

Step two might be a recommendation not to use BPA-containing polymers in certain applications that represent a particularly high risk. Baby bottles and sippy cups made from polycarbonate are no longer on the market in the U.S. Are there other potentially high-risk applications that should also be abandoned?

I understand that the polycarbonate industry firmly and honestly believes that BPA presents no health risk. These are very smart and honorable people. Many are my friends.

But it's time to move on before the collateral damage becomes significant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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