The Foxes Guarding the Chickens: BPA, EPA & the Chemical Makers
This week would have been a great occasion to have a camera crew at the National Institutes of Health, to capture EPA officials meeting with the densest gathering ever of the cream of America’s toxic chemical producers and users.
They came together – with no sign that the new administration had lifted a finger to change business as usual – to “dialog” about how BPA and other chemicals will be tested from now on. They were there to give EPA their “guidance and assessment,” the conference material announces.
BPA, bisphenol-A, is the best-known chemical in America right now, an ingredient in polycarbonate plastics, in the resins that line canned foods and soft-drink cans, in PVC pipes, even in dental sealants.
But recent studies have found that chemicals like BPA assault the way our hormonal systems work, doing their worst harm at the embryonic and fetal stages of life, even at miniscule bits of exposure. Evidence from human and lab animal studies have discovered that these chemicals may trigger breast and testicular cancer, brain damage, ADHD, Down Syndrome, altered immune system, obesity, spontaneous abortions, lowered sperm counts and early puberty, Alzheimer’s dementia...and more.
So the stakes could not be higher.
The roster of presenters at the workshop was a who’s who of vested interests. These were presenters, not simply attendees. Dow Chemical Corporation, SC Johnson, CropLife America (the trade association for pesticide makers), Monsanto, Syngenta, the American Chemistry Council (the trade association for chemical manufacturers), Proctor & Gamble. In addition, the presenters included the third-party companies that most often defend the chemical industry with research, legal representation, and p.r. for hire. The only independent scientist listed, seeing the invitee line-up, had in fact declined to participate and demanded her name be removed, which it was not.
Why would EPA participate in a workshop “to discuss the strengths and weaknesses” of the agency’s new tests with a group so blatantly biased? I asked for a statement from EPA’s newly-appointed administrator but received none.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising since the tests (which Congress in 1996 had demanded be ready by 1998, by the way) were “designed under the surveillance of corporate lawyers who had bottom lines to protect and assorted toxicologists who were not trained in endocrinology and developmental biology” while “those who knew something about endocrine disruption were not invited to participate" (see www.scientificamerican.com/search/index.cfm?i=1&q=Epa+New+Pesticide+Testing+is+Outdated+Theo&submit=Search&submit.x=18&submit.y=11&u1=q)
This foxes guarding the chicken coop approach to science was characteristic of the Bush Administration. We expected better from the Obama appointees.
Combine this interaction between the regulators and the regulated with the huge industry p.r. campaign just launched to downplay the harm that BPA triggers, and you understand why toxic chemicals continue in use and continue to harm our children.
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Alice Shabecoff is the co-author with her husband Philip of Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children, published by Random House. See www.poisonedprofits.com.