Environmental activists are relentless.  No matter how bad their science or how weak their claims, they make much ado about nothing using creative spin.  The latest attack on bisphenol (BPA) and other chemicals found in plastics offers the perfect example. 

This attack appeared in Mother Jones magazine as an “exposé” about dangerous chemicals in plastics, titled: “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics.” Supposedly, this “investigative” piece uncovers a “dirty” secret: BPA Free products are not really safe, manufacturers know this fact, and they are trying to hide it using a “tobacco-styled” campaign!  Gasp!

Truth be told, there is no “new” information in this piece and frankly, no story to tell.

It starts with an overview of concerns raised by a father who fears that his children may suffer from exposure to plastic food containers, such as water bottles and sippy cups.  This dad, Mother Jones notes, also happens to be Michael Green of the Center for Environmental Health, an anti-chemical activist group that helped pass bans on baby bottles and sippy cups made with BPA. Now Green wants to go after the alternatives, which he says also may contain “endocrine disruptors”–chemicals that mimic hormones and allegedly produce adverse health effects. 

If that’s his goal, he had better get to work on ban for soy beans!  Soy and many other healthy foods contain far more potent so-called “endocrine mimicking” substances than do plastics. 

In fact, there are many chemicals that have endocrine-mimicking properties. But whether they have health effects depends on dosage, potency, and the ability of the human body to metabolize the products. Unlike rats, humans metabolize BPA, quickly moving it out of the body before it poses any risks or enters the blood stream in a significant amount. And human exposure through plastics and other products is simply too low to matter anyway.

As for potency, BPA and similar trace chemicals that make plastics and other consumer products are merely “weakly estrogenic,” which means they are not strong enough to have any effects. In fact, they are far weaker than naturally occurring chemicals found in food that possess “endocrine mimicking” qualities.  Humans safely consume such chemicals on regular basis as they occur in soy, corn, potatoes, pineapples, wheat and more foods. These chemicals—called phytoestrogens—are tens of thousands to millions of times more potent than synthetic chemicals.

Green and his Center for Environmental Health were wrong about BPA, so why should anyone listen to his advice about other chemicals?

In fact, FDA just released a new study on BPA that affirms its original finding that BPA is safe, despite claims about endocrine disruption. Scientist Steve Hentges, Ph.D., explains that data very well in his blog post on Science 2.0. Dr. Hentges works for the American Chemistry Council, but there is no need to gasp.

He’s a chemist whose analysis is sound, which is what really matters. But groups and individuals whose arguments hold no water regularly launch attacks on the integrity of anyone who works for industry and they love trying to link them to the tobacco industry no matter how irrelevant that comparison may be. That’s because their arguments don’t stand on the merits.

It may well be true (and more likely) that people choose to work in the chemical or any other industry, or simply advocate those causes, is because they understand that the products they produce are valuable and life-enhancing. For example, BPA is used in many life-saving medical devices and is used to make resins that line food cans to prevent development of deadly pathogens. But greens do not appear interested in those truths.

Hentges is not alone in offering well-researched, scientifically sound input on this issue. There’s lot of great research available on BPA that considers the weight of the evidence and finds that BPA levels are simply too low to have any public health impact, including myriad comprehensive scientific reviews.  And others have debunked the idea that trace levels of synthetic chemicals pose any significant risk for human endocrine effects.

But that’s not new information either, even if greens refuse to acknowledge it. You can browse the many articles on this topic on my website to explore many thoughtful perspectives on this issue.