Tuesday, February 07, 2012

"Using our children as the experimental animals" - What's More Important, Infant Health or Corporate Profits?

From the transcript of a Bill Moyers PBS show entitled Trade Secrets:  

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, CHAIRMAN, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE, MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: We are conducting a vast toxicologic experiment, and we are using our children as the experimental animals.
NARRATION: Not a single child today is born free of synthetic chemicals.
AL MEYERHOFF, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR THE NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: With chemicals, it's shoot first and ask questions later. 
Thousands of new substances are added to the the Chemical Abstracts Service Register daily and used without being tested.   Researchers report in an Italian journal:

The database CAS REGISTRY (www. cas.org), produced by Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of the Chemical Society that since 1907 identifies univocally chemicals, at present includes more than 33 million organic and inorganic sub- stances and over 59 million sequences (January 2008). This database is updated daily and, as an average, approximately 4000 new substances are added each day. [emphasis added]

Should each new substance be tested before it's put into food we eat or products we use or into the air or water?  Or would that impede progress, the introduction of new products, and the growth of the economy?

And what about the cumulative effect of one chemical from different sources?  Or the cumulative effect of many chemicals?  We know, for instance, that different medications interact with each other often cause negative effects

BPA As an Example

So to put this into perspective, I got an email with a link to a 2010 post about BPA in canned tomatoes.  It refers to a Prevention article about an endocrinologist not eating canned tomatoes.
The expert: Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A

The problem:
The resin linings of tin cans contain Bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people’s body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. “You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that’s a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young,” says vom Saal. “I won’t go near canned tomatoes.”

But the American Chemical Council says there's nothing wrong with BPA as you can see in a post on their website

From an October 13, 2010 press release entitled: "Canada's Announcement Regarding BPA is Contrary to the Weight of Worldwide Scientific Evidence" quotes their own PhD expert:
“Just days after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) once again confirmed that BPA is safe for use in food-contact items, Environment Canada’s announcement is contrary to the weight of worldwide scientific evidence, unwarranted and will unnecessarily confuse and alarm the public. This puts Environment Canada at odds with the recent conclusions of EFSA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, all of which have concluded that BPA is safe in contact with food.  The decision also appears to contradict the very recent opinion of Health Canada, which stated in August that ‘the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and infants.’   
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) release cited by the American Chemical Council didn't exactly say it was safe for use in food.  It actually says, in its Sept. 30, 2008 release, ". . . they could not identify any new evidence which would lead them to revise the current Tolerable Daily Intake[2] for BPA of 0.05 mg/kg body weight[3] set by EFSA."

So, they have current maximum levels of safe intake of BPA.  That suggests that more than those levels are NOT safe.

It goes on to say:
The CEF Panel members acknowledge that some recent studies report adverse effects on animals exposed to BPA during development at doses well below those used to determine the current TDI. These studies show biochemical changes in the central nervous system, effects on the immune system and enhanced susceptibility to breast cancer. However, these studies have many shortcomings. At present the relevance of these findings for human health cannot be assessed, though should any new relevant data become available in the future[6], the Panel will reconsider this opinion.
A January 20, 2012 (ten months earlier) US Food and Drug Administration Report also doesn't say what the ACC release suggests: 
"Studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA.  However, on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.  In cooperation with the National Toxicology Program, FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research is carrying out in-depth studies to answer key questions and clarify uncertainties about the risks of BPA."

The German study does cite two studies that show little risk in studies of rats that seems to not substantiate earlier studies that showed problems.

To me this is reminiscent of the tobacco industry's decades of denial of any health problems related to smoking.  

Who's In Charge?  The Regulated Industries or Regulators?

Another issue here is the influence of lobbyists on Congress overseeing the regulators and how much that impinges on the FDA and other agencies' abilities to test and to declare chemicals dangerous. 

How does this relate to people who do not want their kids vaccinated?  They argue they are being forced to risk their kids' health.  But that seems to be totally different for two reasons. 
  • First, the vaccines are far more thoroughly studied - even if there are lingering questions for some - than the tests on all these commercially used chemicals.
  • Second, vaccines prevent the spread of serious health hazards, while commercial chemicals are important mainly because they help corporations make profits.  Yes, the profit because they offer something that makes life a bit more convenient, but again, that convenience is just that - a convenience, but hardly a necessity.  

It does seem clear that the various government agencies in the US and Europe have determined that there is a level above which they believe BPA's are dangerous, yet the several press releases I've looked at offered by the American Chemical Council are worded to imply that they have all found it safe.  Which isn't true. Their argument against the Canadians was not based on the science, but on ACC's allegation that their conclusions are different from everyone else, which isn't exactly true either.  

Here's what the Mayo Clinic website says about BPA:
BPA stands for bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s.
In particular, BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles, and baby bottles and cups. They may also be used in toys and other consumer goods. Epoxy resins can be used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, baby formula cans, bottle tops and water supply lines. Some dental sealants and composites also may contain BPA. And certain thermal paper products, such as cash register receipts, may contain BPA.
Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA or into your body when you handle products made with BPA. BPA remains controversial, and research studies are continuing. The American Chemistry Council, an association that represents plastics manufacturers, contends that BPA poses no risk to human health.
But the National Toxicology Program at the Department of Health and Human Services says it has "some concern" about the possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. This level of concern is midway on its five-level scale, which ranges from serious to negligible. The Food and Drug Administration now shares this level of concern and is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply by finding alternatives to BPA in food containers.
The corporations seem to think that if it hasn't been proven dangerous, they should be able to use it.  But if it hasn't been proven safe, would you want your infant to be exposed to it?  We should use it and if problems show up, then we can take another look.  Essentially, test it on the general population.  Monday's New York Times has another example of this:
The United States Army is investigating whether certain dietary supplements for athletes, available until recently at stores on military bases in the United States, may have played a role in the deaths of two soldiers.

To me this is all related to the Occupy Movement and their concern about the power of big business over government and over people's perceptions about health and safety.  It's also related to the Citizens United - the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.  By getting candidates who make decisions that favor the corporations, they gain control of government and how government treats larger corporations.  The irony is that while the corporate spokespersons rail against government, they are the de facto government. 

It's not a cut and dried issue, but it seems to me that at this point the balance of power is way over on the side of industry, not on the side of the general public.

1 comment:

  1. Who is in charge? It isn't the taxpayers nor is it the toothless regulators. Go OWS!


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