To get right to the heart of the matter, Salon did an article about the risks of bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics. From the land where nothing is harmful, a reply came from Trevor Butterworth (real name) who is an editor at STATS. If you don’t know what STATS is, they are a non-profit attached (in what way, I don’t know) to George Mason Univ, who I believe are industry funded, who ‘dubunk’ bad science news/media (they don’t list their funding but have an office in downtown DC in the midst of lobbyists offices). Unfortunately, they are as about as unscientific as the rest of the media. They twist analyses and selectively use data, if they use data at all. I’ll post his whole letter here for you to judge:
Thanks, Salon, for fomenting hysteria on a topic that is vastly more complex than you seem to realize. Of course, when you a rig a story by putting “scientists” on one side and “industy” on the other, it’s no wonder that the letter writers ahead of me are scandalized – it does seem like a scandal the Bisphenol-A is unregulated given the “evidence” about low-dose effects.
The problem with the thesis – which would have been obvious if you did more reporting on the toxicology – is that it is far from accepted within mainstream toxicology. Frederick Vom Saal has been fighting the battle to persuade his colleagues that something is happening here – and he has been conspicuously unsuccessful. This isn’t because of politics, or industry lobbying – although Vom Saal and the Environmental Working Group seem to be working in concert to raise public awareness about this topic- it’s because the science ain’t there.
Take Europe, a continent where the precautionary principle has been enshrined in law, and where, as a consequence, regulation of chemicals is much stricter than the United States. Earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority a body charged with providing “objective scientific advice” to the European Parliament, delivered a report on the safety of bisphenol-A.
Here’s what they concluded about the “science” driving the Salon article:
“The Panel considered that low-dose effects of BPA in rodents have not been demonstrated in a robust and reproducible way, such that they could be used as pivotal studies for risk assessment. Moreover, the species differences in toxicokinetics, whereby BPA as parent compound is less bioavailable in humans than in rodents, raise considerable doubts about the relevance of any low-dose observations in rodents for humans. The likely high sensitivity of the mouse to oestrogens raises further doubts about the value of that particular species as a model for risk assessment of BPA in humans.”
Toxokinetics folks – it’s not a word taught in journalism schools, or bandied about the newsroom but it’s crucial to understanding why something can be toxic or not. Strangely, the European review concurred with several other comprehensive risk analyses of BPA – including one by Harvard’s Center for Risk Analysis.
Um – maybe that’s why the studies cited by Vom Saal and the Environmental Working Group were largely ignored by the National Toxicology Program’s safety review of BPA, which prompted Vom Saal to say to the LA Times that “none of them have expertise with this chemical,” which is such a dopey comment, you’ve got to wonder about his agenda and credibility (The NTP panels are made up of the top scientists in the U.S.; Vom Saal, himself, is not a toxicologist).
Still – as long as there are credulous publications like Salon, Vom Saal will get his message out, untroubled by the scientific evidence that doesn’t support what he’s saying.
ps – to the letter-writer who thinks BPA might be behind breast cancer: think first about other factors including more mammograms, an aging population (more cancers being caught early, plus more being found due to relative aging of population), increased alcohol consumption, later age of first birth, increased IVF treatments – all of which significantly distinguish Marin County in CA from the rest of the U.S., and probably explain its higher incidence of breast cancer.
Well Mr Butterworth, let me retort.
1) Speaking of no science, you’ve got none! You mention not one shred of evidence that BPA is safe. This is the most ridiculous rebutal letter I’ve ever seen. And from someone with an organization named STATS, you should be ashamed to even go into work. If you are a heavy Ambien user and filed this at 3AM, then MAYBE I’ll give you a pass.
2) Your one attempt at science didn’t go over so well. You say: “Toxicokinetics”. A strong argument to be sure, but perhaps a bit short. Apparently no one taught you toxicokinetics either as it’s the acute exposure studies that show TK profiles that aren’t likely relevant to humans, not the low-dose studies. Also although the absorption and processing of BPA is different in humans and rodents, studies now show that the serum levels that caused harm in rodent studies are the same as what are in some humans negating the toxicokinetics arguement/problem.
3) Um, maybe you ought to READ the National Toxicology Report. I’m not sure you two are on the same page. Go read the interm report summary (it’s not finalized yet), like the whole thing this time instead of cherry picking. Gee, that doesn’t sound like the absolute clean bill of heath you make it out to be. Also, why can’t Vom Saal argue with the results and point out that the panel has no BPA experts? You, Mr Butterworth, don’t seem to have any scientific arguements and he’s got plenty. In addition…
4) 38 experts got together recently and published a great blanced paper that included the following statement
Early life exposure to environmentally relevant BPA doses may result in persistent adverse effects in humans.
The paper is well worth a read for anyone who is interested (maybe I’ll post on this later). Since you, Mr Butterworth, like bandying about university names, this is where the authors were from:
Havard School of Public Health
University of Missouri
University of Cincinnati
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Algalita Marine Research Foundation
University of Siena, Italy
University of Florida
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
University of Cincinnati Medical School
Washington State University
Okazaki Institute For Integrative Bioscience, Japan
Brunel University, UK
National Institute of Health Sciences, Japan
CASE School of Medicine
University of Connecticut
North Carolina State University
Universidad Miguel Hernández, Spain
CIBERESP Hospital Clinico-University of Granada, Spain
University of Illinois at Chicago
USGS, Columbia Environmental Research Center
Tufts School of Medicine
Charit´e University Medical School Berlin, Germany
University of Texas Medical Branch
University of Massachusetts
5) The way you write makes you sound like a 5-grade bully with a huge vocabulary. You may want to either a) get someone to edit your writing (whoops, you’re the editor!) OR b) get some facts and use them correctly.
Whew, I’m glad I got that off my chest.
Oh one more thing, Mister Butterworth, Europe isn’t the paragon of health and safety regulation, no matter what liberals like to think. Trust me, I’ve read their regs (I’ll do a segment on why REACH is stupid for everyone sometime soon). For instance, the list of banned in cosmetics chemcials they came up with is full of chemicals that no one uses anymore anyway. Oooo, tough stand Europe!
Hat Tip to reader Peyton for alerting me to this.