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Government's never-ending war on BPA: Your tax dollars at work

You would think that after more than five decades of research and studies, the government would have found bigger fish to fry than the continued war on bisphenol A (BPA). According to Angela Logomasini of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI; Washington, DC), the government continues its campaign of alarmism over BPA, funding more studies "that use junk science to purport nonexistent harms."

Logomasini, author of the study, "Government's Unfounded War on BPA," said, "There are no verified cases of anyone suffering ill effects from BPA exposure from consumer products. The most cited research studies on BPA focus on activism rather than applying the best scientific principles. Using taxpayer dollars to fund this type of activism is wrong and must stop."

Between 2010 and 2014, $172 million in tax dollars went toward BPA research. "These government alarmist studies on BPA have both public policy and market impacts," noted Logomasini, "including government bans and ‘voluntary' phase-outs of useful products by businesses that want to avoid negative publicity. Such restrictions on the use of BPA plastics put all of its benefits—recyclability, reusability, energy efficiency and durability—at risk."

Used to make hard, clear polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that are used in food packaging, BPA has been under scrutiny for decades. Despite that, BPA has become a target of environmental activists who make a host of unfounded claims about the chemical's risks to humans, said the CEI report. One example the report cites is the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) June 2015 report, "BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain," which advises consumers to buy canned food labeled "BPA-free" and makes the "ominous claim that BPA is a synthetic estrogen that scientists have linked to breast cancer, reproductive damage, developmental problems, heart disease and other illnesses."

Federal agencies, notes Logomasini, have "continued to fund questionable research that fuels such scare-mongering campaigns, which are designed to advance a host of unwarranted and potentially dangerous public policies. Members of Congress would be wise to review and consider oversights of such funding to ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted on misleading and agenda-driven research."

This taxpayer-funded research is of "questionable" value with much of it supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to a tally compiled by Citizens against Government Waste (CAGW), between 2000 and 2014, NIH doled out $172.7 million for BPA research grants. Seventy percent of those funds, according to CAGW, were spent between 2010 and 2015, coinciding with the appointment of Linda Birnbaum, known for her environmental activism, as director of NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The CEI report cites the Chapel Hill Consensus Statement, formed by a group of researchers whose effort entailed filling in "research gaps" in BPA studies. Logomasini notes that while the statement was presented as "an official ‘government' review of the science, the consensus document does not reflect the work of any official government panel. Instead the conference was organized by researchers with an interest in gaining funding for their own BPA research, much of which has proven highly controversial with a focus on activism rather than applying the best scientific principles."

Not coincidentally, at least 21 of the Chapel Hill Consensus contributors have worked on NIEHS-funded studies addressing BPA risk, including NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum while she was at the EPA and Frederick vom Saal (University of Missouri), who has co-authored at least 14 such studies. There is an apparent conflict of interest among the Chapel Hill Consensus scientists who stood to gain financially by exaggerating BPA risks in order to build momentum for government support.

This group, adds Logomasini, has taken issue with "the larger, more comprehensive and scientifically robust research on BPA," which has shown that "at current exposure levels, BPA poses little risk and its benefits outweigh any alleged health risks." In fact, notes Logomasini, many of the research studies measured only "exposure" to BPA, and "did not actually measure any risk."

In her conclusion, Logomasini writes that "political pressure should not lead to the removal of BPA products without a complete understanding of the value BPA brings and the serious risks associated with arbitrarily removing BPA from the marketplace. The current state of research on the topic offers enough information to understand that BPA risks at the trace levels found in food and consumer products are negligible. Funding yet more BPA research will simply add fuel to an already out-of-control fire, and lead to yet more misguided and counterproductive anti-BPA technology bans and ‘voluntary phase outs.' The tax dollars dedicated to BPA research surely would do more good in programs focused on curing real illnesses or in the pockets of the workers who earned them."

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