Politics of chemical waste
Endless testing of safe substances squanders research dollars
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.