Bisphenol Blues

by Adam Brock

Ever since Jeff Frost’s presentation at Ecosa sparked my interest in toxic molecules, I’ve keeping an eye out for reliable info on commonly used chemicals and how they might be affecting us. The vast majority of the man-made substances we come into contact with haven’t been tested for their long-term health effects, and every year there seems to be some new finding that a chemical once thought to be safe is ending up in our bloodstream and contributing to all sorts of dysfunction. It’s enough to make you think that we’re unwittingly poisoning ourselves into oblivion – after all, what are all the chemicals we don’t know about doing to us?

Bisphenol A looks like it’s shaping up to be this year’s toxic molecule. I just listened to a podcast interview with Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor at the University of Missouri, and his research on this nasty little chemical doesn’t exactly make your aura glow. Vom Saal contends that Bisphenol A (which is found in everything from Nalgene bottles to canned food to cling wraps to drinking water near landfills) disorganizes male and female reproductive systems, affects the immune system, and results in miscarriages. He even speculates that BPA is connected to the recent epidemics of ADHD and obesity – it’s been shown to stimulate insulin production.

Is this guy paranoid? Is Bisphenol A really to blame for the litany of disorders that vom Saal is leveling against it? The plastic manufacturers certainly don’t think so. But vom Saal takes aim at them, as well, claiming that they’ve hired the same firms who discredited the science on nicotine in the ’90s to stage a disinformation campaign on the safety of Bisphenol.

I certainly wouldn’t put it past GE and Dow Chemical to use the same tactics as Phillip Morris did back in the day. But no amount of quasi-science can hide BPA’s history, and it’s not one that favors the maufacturers. As vom Saal tells it, BPA was originally synthesized as a hormone drug, mimicking the effects of estrogen in the body. Only when a more potent (and, as it turns out, equally harmful) drug was found did scientists turn to employing Bisphenol as the polymer additive we know it as today. In other words, we’re pumping known hormone disruptors into our canned food and baby bottles, and the plastic companies are saying there’s no risk of harm? Hmm… I’ll stick to carrying around a glass bottle, thanks.

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