For the last two decades, scientists have amassed evidence that bisphenol A (BPA) poses a threat to human health. BPA is a chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic, can liners for food and beverages, and thermal paper used for register receipts. It is used in so many applications that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found traces of BPA in 93 percent of people it tested. Although scientists have targeted BPA as a public health concern, plastics industry lobbyists have attempted to thwart the efforts of federal, state, and local authorities to reduce exposure to BPA.
The industry arguments can confuse the public because the way BPA acts on the body is counter-intuitive. Contrary to the old toxicology axiom that “the dose makes the poison,” smaller amounts of BPA are linked to a host of negative health effects. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, a chemical that interferes with the body’s system of hormones. The endocrine system is very sensitive, so just a small amount of BPA at the wrong time can have major health consequences. That’s why scientists and parents alike are so concerned about BPA.
Infants and small children are the most vulnerable, and they are also the most highly exposed to BPA. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) should coordinate their efforts to regulate BPA. And Congress should improve the federal approach to toxics regulation by affirmatively empowering agencies like the EPA, FDA, CPSC and OSHA to regulate endocrine-disrupting compounds.
For advocates who’ve been around the regulatory block a few times, the industry’s attack will look familiar. Industry groups have fought regulations on everything from automobiles to tobacco in roughly the same way. First, industry lobbyists attack the science, suggest that agencies use industry-funded studies, and stoke scientific controversies. Next, they claim that regulations will bankrupt the industry and kill jobs. Finally, if state or local regulation becomes unavoidable, they seek to undermine it by pushing for lax federal-level regulations, to take the wind out of the sails of state-level advocacy.
Today the Center for Progressive Reform releases a new white paper, Opening the Industry Playbook: Myths and Truths in the Debate Over BPA Regulation, which debunks five industry myths about the science, economics, and regulatory approach to BPA:
Concerned parents and grassroots activists have led the way on BPA, and public outcry has caused manufacturers to voluntarily remove the chemical from many products for infants and children. But federal agencies need to catch up and develop tools to protect the public from dozens of other endocrine disrupting compounds. The agencies should use BPA to set the standard for how they address endocrine disruptors in the future.
Today's report was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor, Member Scholar Tom McGarity, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz, and myself.