Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

 

Gilbert Ross, medical director for the industry-funded "American Council on Science and Health" published the following essay on the ACSH website in response to hearings in the the California state legislature to ban bisphenol A, a chemical used in plastic, from a series of consumer products. Like a similar essay by junkscience.com attack dog Steve Milloy, it contains a series of factual errors.

Added 21 October 2005: Investigative reporting by Mother Jones revealed that Gilbert Ross was convicted of medical fraud and perjury in 1995, and that, after serving time in jail, as recently as 2004 he was misrepresenting this incident by failing to acknowledge the conviction in a New York State application form.
Link to Mother Jones article

A 2005 analysis industry misrepresentation of bisphenol A results

Comments in similar boxes below identify and analyze errors in Ross's text as it was available online 27 April 2005. They are placed to the left of the relevant text passages.  

Chemophobia Looms Again in California

By Gilbert Ross, M.D.

California's legislature is now debating whether to ban a chemical found in plastic consumer products of many types, Bisphenol A, based on the so-called precautionary principle. This principle asserts that if a substance is suspected of being harmful, it must be banned or restricted until it's proven "safe."
But how does anyone go about proving a substance completely safe, and to whose satisfaction must it be proven?

In the case of bisphenol A (BPA), the accuser of record is Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Oakland), who was also instrumental in the attempt to ban certain cosmetics and kids' toys because of a different chemical constituent. The scare campaign is orchestrated by the same PR operation that brought us the scare over Alar on apples in 1989: Fenton communications, which generates alarm to promote its anti-science agenda and win adherents: they will "save" us from every (non-existent) chemical threat.

"Almost all of these scares are based on high-dose rat tests..."

The issue about Bisphenol A not about 'high dose.' Bisphenol A at extremely low levels, well within the range to which most Americans are exposed, causes a wide range of adverse effects in animals. No one who has actually led the scientific literature on bisphenol A could honestly frame this is as being about high doses. The most striking low-dose results have been reported in research on cellular signaling. But many impacts have been reported in animal experiments at levels that are dramatically lower than anything which might be characterized as 'high dose tests."

  Almost all of these scares are based on high-dose rat tests. When fed huge doses of various chemicals, rats sometimes develop cancers and other abnormalities, which are then extrapolated to humans and used by activist groups and their public relations machines as a basis for scare campaigns.

 

"...no correlation between rodent toxicity tests and human effects..."

Wrong. Why do drug companies use animal tests to develop human drugs? Ross's bald statement ignores a large body of scientific literature about the predictive nature of animal tests for human effects, especially regarding compounds that interfere with estrogen signaling, as does BPA. The most notorious example is the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol, where decades of research has shown that animal experiments predict human effects.

[audio clip from Dr. Fred vom Saal on why animal studies are relevant. More audio clips on BPA.]

  The only problem: there is no correlation between rodent toxicity tests and human effects (see the American Council on Science and Health book on this topic, America's War on "Carcinogens."

For example: BPA has long been used to make tough plastic products such as plastic water bottles, food and drink packaging, and toys and baby bottles, in the form of polycarbonate plastics. It is also used to make epoxy resins, which are needed in water pipes, bottle tops, and children's teeth sealants.

"There is no evidence that it has caused any adverse health effects in humans..."

This is a classic 'bob and weave' by industry spokespeople. Epidemiological studies of BPA effects on people have just begun. There is no evidence because there are very few relevant data. It's a demonstration of ignorance, not proof of safety. Animal studies link BPA to a range of health problems that are increasing in people.

  There is no evidence that it has caused any adverse health effects in humans.

 

"...completely different physiologies from humans..."

Does any medical school teach that mammalian physiologies are completely different? Any course in comparative developmental biology or comparative physiology should have taught its students, including Ross, that the similarities overwhelm the differences.

"many thousands (or millions)..."

Wrong. Here Ross repeats his erroneous assertion from above. Unless Ross has not read (or understood) any of the scientific literature about BPA then he is willfully misrepresenting this issue.

  This should come as no surprise. Not only are the rodent tests done on, well, rodents, which have completely different physiologies from humans, but the doses they are given are many thousands (or millions) of times greater than what we humans are exposed to from these products.

Scientists can't even predict effects on mice based on experiments done on rats. The connection between rats and humans is even more tenuous.

Ms. Chan said she was "shocked to find out that there were chemicals in toys that babies put in their mouths and in baby bottles. We just shouldn't have these products on the market in California." Perhaps, since she has oversight over children's health, someone should tell Ms. Chan that we are all composed of "chemicals." The food we eat daily is chock full of perfectly natural chemicals which, if the dose is high enough, cause the same effects in rats as the substances she is so anxious to condemn.

"written a peer-reviewed paper on BPA..."

Their 'peer-reviewed' paper leans heavily on industry experiments that white-wash BPA but which the National Toxicology Program in a review of low-dose experiments concluded were highly flawed... indeed one in which the actual results, when analyzed independently, concluded BPA had effects, contrary to paper's stated conclusions. 'Peer-review' here clearly means peer-review by industry scientists. It's the only way such nonsense could be published.

 

  ACSH has written a peer-reviewed paper on BPA, which was published in Medscape, a scientific journal, after being subjected to that journal's own independent review process (see "Bisphenol A: A Scientific Evaluation,"


Our conclusion: people's current exposures to BPA are not a cause for concern, for adults, children, or pregnant women. This conclusion is in agreement with those of the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The only folks who disagree are the activists, Fenton PR, and the republic of California.

Ross presupposes that BPA is safe, an assumption that an up-to-date assessment of the scientific literature challenges.

It also assumes there are no replacements. Often it is true that the companies claiming they have no replacement not only don't have on, they also have a huge investment in current production facilities. But other companies do have replacements for BPA, covering some (but not all) of its current uses. For example, there are cost-competitive replacements available today on the market for liquid containers (including baby bottles).

  If useful and safe consumer products are banned "at the drop of a rat," as Assemblywoman Chan and her supporters propose, what would replace them? We know that the taxpayers of California would bear the cost of new substances being tested and introduced.

 

This is an important question. There are risks with replacements, but in the case of bisphenol A there are some replacements whose chemistry clearly avoids the problems that BPA creates. This is because the bonds that bind BPA into a plastic are not stable.   And what would the adverse effects of these new products be? How much testing would they have to go through before their release into the marketplace?

The scaremongers won't be easily satisfied.

The real message here is that current industry science on BPA can't be trusted, nor can spokespeople like Ross who work for PR operations that have clear associations with those industries. These people and their predecessors have misrepresented science on lead, mercury, vinyl chloride, chromium, perchlorate, atrazine and other compounds, taking cues from--and in some cases collaborating with-- the tobacco industry on a wide array of health problems associated with environmental exposures. They are doing it now with BPA.   Banning BPA will not improve the health of even one of California's children. Listen to scientists, not hypesters. Pay attention to kid's many real problems, not purely hypothetical ones such as BPA.


Gilbert L. Ross, M.D., is Executive and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
   
   

 

 

 

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