Unsafe at Any Level? Dangerous Chemicals Everywhere

By Dr. Jonathan Latham

Global Research, June 29, 2016
Who What Why 27 June 2016

Though the chemical industry gets wide praise for eliminating the hazardous chemical BPA from our water bottles and other daily use products, the replacement material may turn out to be even worse.

Before we consider the new danger, let’s look at the old one.

BPA (bisphenol-A) — is a chemical found in plastic bottles, in the lining of food cans, in bottle tops, and in water supply lines. It can seep into whatever it contains.

BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, said to be “a lightweight, high-performance plastic that possesses a unique balance of toughness, optical clarity, high heat resistance, and excellent electrical resistance.”

As well as being a primary ingredient of plastics, BPA also interferes with hormones — the powerful chemical messengers that control nearly every major function of the body. For this reason, it is called an “endocrine disruptor.”

Exposure to BPA in adulthood has numerous effects, including stem cell and sperm cell defects, the risk of prostate and breast cancers, liver tumors, rising blood pressure, and obesity (Bhan et al., 2014; Prins 2014). Fetuses exposed to BPA can develop food intolerance. Early BPA exposure can lead to delayed effects, including those indicative of altered brain function.

These are just a representative handful of harms, drawn from a much larger body of at least 200 publications (some have estimated a thousand publications). The sheer quantity of results represent a massive accumulation of scientific evidence that BPA is harmful.

Chemical manufacturers have begun removing BPA from their products. Sunoco no longer sells BPA for products that might be used by children under three. France has a national ban on BPA food packaging. The EU has banned BPA from baby bottles. These bans and associated product withdrawals are the result of epic scientific research and some intensive environmental campaigning.

But these restrictions are not victories for human health. Nor are they even losses for the chemical industry.

For one thing, the industry now profits from selling premium-priced BPA-free products. These are usually made with the chemical substitute BPS — which current research suggests is even more of a health hazard than BPA.

But since BPS is far less studied, it will likely take many years to build a sufficient case for a new ban.

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From BPA to BPS — Bad to Worse?

The chemical most frequently used to make BPA-free products is called BPS. As its name implies, BPS is very similar in chemical structure to BPA.

However, BPS appears to be absorbed by the human body more readily than BPA and is already detectable in 81% of Americans.

BPS is now looking likely to be even more toxic than BPA. Like BPA, BPS has been found to interfere with mammalian hormonal activity.

In addition, to a greater extent than BPA, BPS, alters nerve cell creation in the zebrafish brain and causes behavioral hyperactivity in zebrafish larvae. These results were observed at extremely low chemical concentrations, 1,000-fold lower than the official US levels of acceptable human exposure.

Time and again, synthetic chemicals have been banned or withdrawn only to be replaced by others that are equally harmful, and sometimes are worse.

Neonicotinoids — which the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) credits with creating a global ecological catastrophe — are modern replacements for long-targeted organophosphate pesticides. And organophosphates had previously supplanted DDT and the other organochlorine pesticides from whose effects many bird species are only now recovering.

What can be done about this? First, we need to understand the full extent of the problem. That means stripping away the mythologies surrounding risk assessment. When we do this, we see why chemical regulations don’t work.

“Risk Assessment” Is an Illusion

The experiments currently being performed by toxicologists are incapable of generating predictions of safety that can be applied to other species, or even to the same species when it exists in other environments, or eats other diets.

Since numerous experiments have shown that this most basic element of chemical risk assessment is invalid, the protection chemical risk assessments claim to offer is a complex illusion.

What is known about the technical limitations of toxicology and the overall scientific rigor of chemical risk assessment? And are these assessments being performed by competent and well-intentioned institutions?

The standard assays of toxicology involve the administration (usually oral feeding) of chemicals in short term tests of up to 90 days to defined strains of organisms (most often rats or mice). These test organisms are of a specified age and are fed standardised diets.

The results are then extrapolated to other doses, other age groups and other environments. Such experiments are used to create estimates of harm. Together withestimates of exposure they form the essence of chemical risk assessment.

To say that both estimates are prone to error, however, is an understatement.

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