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Defeating the BPA fear entrepreneurs

My latest HND piece takes a look at the so-called Precautionary Principle, and how the fear entrepreneurs have used it to propose bans on bisphenol-A (BPA).

Since BPA does appear in so many consumer products, it has become a favorite target—perhaps THE favorite target—of fear entrepreneurial and "environmental" fund-raising groups. Even though there is not a scintilla of evidence showing harm to humans at any rational level of exposure to this chemical, BPA has been a successful fund-raising scapegoat for five main reasons:

  • Minute (but harmless) amounts of BPA can leach out from polycarbonate baby bottles.
  • Trace amounts of BPA metabolites have been detected in urine.
  • Grant-awarding agencies and scientific journals tend to like sensationalistic results more than actual science.
  • The bewildered public has been sold on the notion that evil industry alone has sordid motives, while the fear entrepreneurs are simon-pure.
  • There is an appalling lack of understanding of risk assessment even among so-called scientists.

I quote noted toxicologist Julie Goodman, Ph.D., Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology...

There is no proposed BPA ban anywhere in the world that is based on the premise that BPA causes harm. Rather, such bans are said to be based on the Precautionary Principle, which demands proof that something is not harmful—essentially demanding the inherent impossibility of proving a negative.


Many toxicologists believe that if there is not sufficient knowledge on a chemical, the Principle should apply. They would argue, though, that for compounds such as BPA, there is a mountain of data showing that it is safe, and those who still clamor for its ban will never be satisfied. (How much data is enough?)

The only trouble with this more nuanced view is that there are precious few—if any—cases in which the Principle has been fairly applied. Indeed, as I point out, the Principle only became well-known in this country in 1998, more than 27 years after EPA was founded, and all its regulatory zeal had been unleashed.

Consider the words of the Precautionary Principle, as stated in 1998 in the Wingspread Conference:

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.


Thus, I lay down the gauntlet...

BPA has been used for decades with absolutely no ill effect, and any proposed alternative does not have a fraction of the research data behind it. Therefore, according to the Precautionary Principle, those who propose the ban of BPA—and not the users and manufacturers of the compound—should bear the burden of proof.

"For 'tis the sport to have the engineer Hoist with his own petard."    (Hamlet Act III, scene 4)

Read the complete article.


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