As scientists get better at detecting the chemicals in our bodies, they're discovering that even tiny quantities of toxins can have a potentially serious impact on our health — and our children's future. Chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates — key ingredients in modern plastics — may disrupt the delicate endocrine system, leading to developmental problems. A host of modern ills that have been rising unchecked for a generation — obesity, diabetes, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder — could have chemical connections. "We don't give environmental exposure the attention it deserves," says Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at New York City's Mount Sinai Medical Center. "But there's an emerging understanding that kids are uniquely susceptible to environmental hazards."
The levels [of BPA] observed are considered well below the federal safety threshold of 50 micrograms per kg of body weight per day. But that recommendation was made 22 years ago, and in the time since, scientists have learned more about the effects of even a bit of BPA. In 1998, Patricia Hunt, a geneticist at Washington State University, found that female mice dosed with BPA had serious reproductive problems, including defective eggs. More recently, she published a study showing that the offspring of mice exposed to BPA while pregnant can end up with corrupted eggs, a situation that leads to trouble for their offspring. "That's a powerful effect," says Hunt. "You disrupt three generations with one exposure."
The science around endocrine disrupters is far from settled. Studies like Swan's show a correlation between phthalate exposure and developmental defects, but that doesn't mean the chemicals are causing the problems. Industry defenders point out that human exposure to BPA and phthalates is still well below safety levels set by the government and that health agencies around the world say the chemicals are safe for humans. And some peer-reviewed studies fail to show a positive connection between endocrine disrupters like BPA and health defects. "I think the research [on BPA] has been overhyped," says Richard Sharpe, an investigator at the Centre for Reproductive Biology at the Queen's Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh. "If you restrict the question to its estrogenic effects, I just don't see them."
If you want to market a new drug, you need to convince the FDA — in multiple tests, over the course of years — that it won't cause serious harm. If you want to sell a new pesticide, you need to prove the same thing. The burden of proof is on manufacturers to make the grade, and government regulators are the final judge.
But if you want to market a new chemical for use in a product — even one that will come into contact with children or pregnant women — it's up to the EPA to prove that it's unsafe, using whatever data are provided by the chemical company, with little power to ask for more. And if it's one of the 62,000 chemicals that were already in use when the TSCA went into effect in 1976 — a category that includes BPA — chances are it was never really tested by the government at all. "Chemicals are deemed safe until the EPA can prove that they are dangerous," says Richard Wiles, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "It's completely backward."
Full Article at: Time - The Perils of Plastic
Reform alone, though, won't defuse the basic debate over how much of an impact chemicals really are having on human health — and when protective measures may go too far. Nearly everything we buy, sell and use depends on chemicals, and the industry employs 803,000 Americans. Replacing the keystone ingredients of modern life would be challenging, not to mention costly. And smarter regulation won't change the fact that the science on chemicals and health — especially for complex endocrine disrupters — will never be clear-cut, no matter how many studies each side carries out. "You can ban BPA all you want, but if there are no better materials, you'll just move to the next case," says Joel Tickner, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts' School of Health and Environment. "We need solutions that will be win-win."
Are the amounts of synthetic chemicals we encounter daily a problem? Is it worth the risk to use modern products that contain toxic chemicals? Are their health risks being exaggerated, or are they being underplayed? Why should companies be allowed to mass produce chemicals without proving they are safe? Could modern life be possible without these potentially hazardous chemicals?
BTW, before anyone gets snarky, we're talking about synthetic