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Science is sidelined by sensationalism

Two Views • County's BPA ban stirs up a cauldron of concern
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Renee Hackenmiller-Paradis, environmental health program director for the Oregon Environmental Council, spots some sippy cups at a Southeast Portland Dollar Tree store that she suspects contain BPA, which many studies indicate is a health hazard but is disputed by some experts.

Passion and principle are good things - generally. But when passion ignores science, and principles are based solely on political agendas, even well-intentioned efforts can lead to unfortunate consequences.

The recent efforts by a Multnomah County executive to institute a countywide ban on BPA (a chemical compound that is used to make shatter-resistant plastics and protect the safety and integrity of canned foods and beverages) is an example of passion taking over where sound science and the opinions of global government science experts should prevail (A BPA-free county?, Aug. 25).

And while a county government organization may regard itself as the 'local health authority' and appoint a work group to conduct 'research,' it is difficult to imagine that those selected to serve will have the same public health and medical credentials or the scientific expertise of professionals from around the globe - such as the scientists who work at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, the World Health Organization and Health Canada.

There has been a fair amount of discussion in recent months about government 'overreach' at the state and federal level. The county effort to get involved in food safety policy and institute a broad ban on BPA is an example of government officials focused on personal agendas, rather than on public benefit.

Does the county really have the staff and financial resources to initiate a product ban and monitor what retailers are selling - especially when such a ban is clearly not supported by science?

Bisphenol A (or BPA as it is more commonly known) is used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins - and both applications have been approved for use in contact with food by the FDA, EFSA and many other government agencies for decades. Because it is used in epoxy resin canned food linings, BPA protects food from contamination and spoilage. Cans with epoxy resin linings have a shelf life of two years or longer, which becomes very important in areas of our country where fresh fruits and vegetables are not always easily accessible or affordable.

Canned food is also essential in disaster-relief and military operations and very helpful to food banks, as well as other organizations that routinely feed large numbers of people.

When considering if they want county resources spent to ban BPA, residents should also know that a person's real-world exposure to BPA is extremely low. In fact, a person would have to consume 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate containers every day for the rest of their life just to reach the safe intake level set by the government bodies in the U.S. and Europe.

Or, as another example, a person would have to eat or drink the contents of 1,140 cans of food or beverage every day for a lifetime to reach the safe intake limit.

So when a county government official makes a claim such as: 'there is no dispute that BPA is a toxic, poisonous chemical,' it is critical that we look past the rhetoric and concentrate on well-documented facts. In November 2010, a World Health Organization 30-person expert panel supported the continued use of BPA in products that come in contact with food - such as polycarbonate plastic food containers.

In April, the German Society of Toxicology said 'the available evidence indicates that BPA exposure represents no noteworthy risk to the health of the human population, including newborns and babies.'

In addition, much is known about how BPA is processed by the human body. Scientific research shows that in humans, BPA is quickly metabolized and eliminated from the body. When it is ingested through contact with food, it is rapidly converted into a metabolite that is inactive in our bodies.

And recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-funded research on human volunteers, conducted by scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory along with researchers from FDA and CDC, reconfirmed that it is very unlikely that BPA could cause human health effects because of the speed with which the human body metabolizes BPA.

We all want safe consumer products and affordable food for ourselves and our families, but we also want government officials to rely on well documented research when deciding where to focus their efforts. We encourage county executives to direct their attention to pressing local issues, and not attempt to override scientific experts from around the world.

Elizabeth Earls is with Associated Oregon Industries in Salem.