Pol­i­tics of chem­i­cal waste

End­less test­ing of safe sub­stances squan­ders re­search dol­lars

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By David Wil­liams

From the satir­i­cal Golden Fleece Awards be­stowed by the late Sen. Wil­liam Prox­mire to the leg­endary $640 toi­let seat pur­chased by the Pen­tagon and a more re­cent re­quest for fed­eral fund­ing of a cow­boy po­etry fes­ti­val, Amer­i­cans are no strangers to waste­ful gov­ern­ment spend­ing. There is no short­age of ex­am­ples of goofy pro­grams politi­cians want to pay for with tax dol­lars.

Gov­ern­ment-funded re­search is one large area of ques­tion­able spend­ing. When Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Re­pub­li­can, un­cov­ered that tax­pay­ers paid $593,000 to re­search why chimps like to throw their waste, some folks may have laughed. But the tens of mil­lions of dol­lars be­ing spent for sim­i­larly spe­cious re­search into the chem­i­cal bisphe­nol A (BPA) is no laugh­ing mat­ter.

BPA is pos­si­bly the most stud­ied sub­stance known to man. It has been used by busi­nesses for 50 years pri­mar­ily as a build­ing block for shat­ter­proof plas­tic like that used in ski gog­gles, DVDS, com­puter equip­ment and thou­sands of other or­di­nary prod­ucts. It is also a key com­po­nent in the safety lin­ers for canned foods and bev­er­ages, pre­vent­ing bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion and food poi­son­ing.

Af­ter a half-cen­tury of com­mer­cial use and many stud­ies, BPA has been found to be safe. One Ger­man study that ex­am­ined more than 5,000 BPA stud­ies con­cluded, “the avail­able ev­i­dence in­di­cates that BPA ex­po­sure rep­re­sents no note­wor­thy risk to the health of the hu­man pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing new­borns and ba­bies.”

De­spite these find­ings, valu­able and shrink­ing re­search money is still be­ing used to study the chem­i­cal. Now, some ex­perts fear that con­tin­ued BPA re­search siphons money away from more press­ing needs. Richard Sharpe, a se­nior sci­en­tist and pre­em­i­nent ex­pert at the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil Hu­man Re­pro­duc­tive Sci­ences Unit in Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land, is un­equiv­o­cal in his as­sess­ment. He warned in the sci­ence jour­nal Tox­i­co­log­i­cal Sci­ences that “Fun­da­men­tal, repet­i­tive work on bisphe­nol A has sucked in tens, prob­a­bly hun­dreds, of mil­lions of dol­lars from gov­ern­ment bod­ies and in­dus­try which, at a time when re­search money is thin on the ground, looks in­creas­ingly like an in­vest­ment with a nil re­turn.”

Even though there is am­ple ev­i­dence that BPA is safe for hu­mans, pol­i­tics keeps the is­sue alive as ac­tivist re­searchers seek to keep a river of gov­ern­ment grant money flow­ing while pres­sure groups pur­sue a rad­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal agenda. Their ef­forts to ban BPA is so un­re­lent­ing that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues spend­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars for ad­di­tional, un­nec­es­sary re­search. Pres­i­dent Obama’s bloated stim­u­lus pack­age in­cluded $30 mil­lion for ad­di­tional test­ing, some of which is still un­der way, keep­ing re­searchers on the tox­i­co­log­i­cal equiv­a­lent of a wild goose chase.

The Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil (NRDC) wants to ban BPA while this on­go­ing re­search con­tin­ues. The NRDC filed suit against the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) in an at­tempt to pres­sure the agency. Con­se­quently, the FDA must respond to the NRDC’S pe­ti­tion to ban BPA by March 31. If the FDA agrees with the NRDC, it will usher in a new era of reg­u­la­tion by law­suit rather than sound sci­ence or com­mon sense.

Af­ter more than 5,000 stud­ies prov­ing BPA is harm­less, it’s a trav­esty that tax­pay­ers are still fund­ing re­search for a minis­cule re­turn. This is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of what hap­pens when lawyers and politi­cians in­fil­trate the reg­u­la­tory process, con­tin­u­ing to waste tax­payer money in a des­per­ate at­tempt to show BPA is harm­ful when sci­ence has re­peat­edly shown that it is not.


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