FullPlastics1
This is Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.” He was getting some advise from an old family friend. Do you remember this scene?

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you -just one word.
: : : Ben: Yes sir.
: : : Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
: : : Ben: Yes I am.
: : : Mr. McGuire: ‘Plastics.’
: : : Ben: Exactly how do you mean?
: : : Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
: : : Ben: Yes I will.
: : : Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That’s a deal.

Mr. McGuire had a crystal ball. Or maybe he had a plastic ball. The future was all about plastics. Unfortunately the future would also be filled with debates about BPA. I was invited to sit in on a conversation with Dr. Val Jones from Better Health. One of the guest speakers was Steven G. Hentges, Ph.D. Executive Director – Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group American Chemistry Council. Dr. Hentges discussed the debate surrounding BPA, and allowed bloggers who were sitting in on the conversation to ask him questions. I did my homework before speaking to Dr. Hentges. I didn’t know too much about BPA other than it’s the stuff that caused all my friends to stop microwaving their food in plastic containers. My friends are health conscious. They said that BPA is bad stuff, and that a lot of it goes into your food when you microwave your meal in a plastic container.

I had two questions about BPA when I started doing my homework. First, what is the best science for assessing the safety of BPA? And second, if BPA is unsafe, why was it presumed to be safe for the past 50 years? I Googled BPA and found an abundance of research information. There are a lot of statistics swirling around in this debate. I also found an informative article in the American Journal of Public Health entitled “The Politics of Plastic: The Making and Unmaking of of Bisphenol A Safety.” The author, Sarah Vogel, asked the same questions that I have about BPA, and she came up with some answers. I downloaded her article for 15 bucks ( it was totally worth it), and I learned more about the history of BPA, and about this debate.

I learned that PBA was identified as a possible synthetic estrogen back in the 30s by a British medical researcher when he was looking for the “mother substance.” He finally stumbled onto the hormone DES, which was used for “female problems” until it was banned in 1979. In the meantime, BPA was used in the development of plastic. In 1957 BPA was polymerized and turned into polycarbonate. At the time, BPA’s safety was defined by its commercial use in plastics. It was judged on its toxicity, not on its hormone like properties. Fast forward to 1993. Vogel writes in her article that researchers looking for an estrogen in yeast found that their experiment was being contaminated by estrogen-like BPA from their polycarbonate flasks, and scientists started looking at the issue of “endocrine disruption” from low doses of estrogen-like substances, at levels below the FDA’s threshold doses. Vogel concludes:

    “Low dose research is longer on the margins of accepted scientific thought but is moving into the mainstream of accepted knowledge. And yet, although scientific understanding of BPA expanded dramatically over the past 10 years, its 20 year old safety standard, based on a threshold dose model, has remained fixed.”

Of course not everyone agrees with Vogel’s conclusion, but she does ask some valid questions. I also share in her concern. During our discussion, Dr. Hentges said that plastics are safe. Of course he would say that because he advocates for the plastic industry. However I was surprised by his thoughts on plastic research. He thinks it should stop. Dr. Hentges said that plastics are safe because no one can prove that they are unsafe. Say what?! Wouldn’t scientists want to do more research in order to clarify the facts? I know that the plastic industry wants to protect their interests, but let’s get the facts straight. We need to have one more word about plastics. In the meantime, I’m microwaving my food in Pyrex. I want more information about BPA.

Here’s the link to the podcast with Dr. Hentges at Better Health.