If there is a better example of what happens when junk science meets reality, good luck finding it. Look no further than today s New York Times article about how a misguided attempt to solve a non-problem turned into a real problem.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom says, Let s give (negative) credit to the anti-BPA cottage industry. They have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in scaring the public about a big fat nothing tiny levels of exposure to BPA one of the components of polycarbonate and polyether plastics. BPA is ubiquitous in modern life. And also non-modern life, since it has been used safely for more than 50 years, most commonly as a liner/sealant in canned foods.
The problem? BPA-based plastics degrade (barely) inside the can, releasing a tiny amount of BPA itself. Given the enormous advances in analytical techniques, it is now possible to find chemicals that were always present, but not detectable. This is why a BPA metabolite can be detected in the urine of virtually everyone. This is a splendid example of what you don t know won t hurt you. In the case of BPA, perhaps it is time to update the aphorism to even if you do know, it still won t hurt you.
The non-solution to the non-problem was discussed in depth in Dr. Bloom s Science 2.0 piece entitled BPA, BPS, BPD(uh), in which he pointed out that in the hysterical rush to get away from anything containing BPA, a similar chemical called BPS somehow sounded like a good idea, enabling Whole Foods to trumpet BPA-free products on their carbon-neutral signs.
Dr. Bloom says, This was a fine idea (at least for marketing) until someone bothered to measure the effects of BPS on sexual development one of the big phony knocks against BPA in zebrafish, and found that BPS was actually worse than BPA. The fact that worse is in quotes is no accident. BPS will cause the same non-harm as BPA, but it will do it better. Yes it is that crazy.
It may be good marketing, but when a new chemical is used to replace one that has been studied to death, even a zebrafish might suspect that this may not be such a swell idea. One would think that EWG might have thought about this in advance.
But, a quote from RenÃ©e Sharp, the director of research of the group suggests otherwise: We do want to push companies away from it, because it is a known toxin...At the same time, we are also definitely worried about the chemicals coming on the market and we don t have a lot of good information about a number of them.
To which Dr. Bloom replies, Duh. These guys have painted themselves into quite a corner. They want to get away from a known toxin (which is nothing of the sort) but are afraid of the alternative. This doesn t leave a whole lot of choice, unless you are willing to accept the risk of botulism, which will surely happen some of the time if canned food is not airtight.
We will leave it to you who to believe. Us? Them? The FDA, which has consistently maintained that the stuff is safe, or Ms. Sharp, who has a Masters in biology, is the director of research of a group that is obsessed with trace chemicals. Perhaps not the greatest pedigree ever, but fear not. According the the EWG website she is an avid outdoorswoman and a long-time practitioner of mindfulness and Buddhist meditation.