Your March 9 Viewpoint, ``The stakes are high in endocrine debate,'' presents some valid points and correctly warns that the endocrine modulator issue is receiving increased attention, here and abroad, primarily because of the professional spin work being done by the publishers of Our Stolen Future. My good friend George Makrauer has now jumped into the endocrine modulator correspondence flurry with his April 13 letter to Plastics News.
I agree with most of what has been said, provided it is taken in context. The problem with the editorial, however, is that it makes it sound as if plastics products, per se, are potential endocrine disrupters. George's letter also makes it sound as if the plastics industry's piece of this problem is the same as that of the chemical industry. In doing this, everyone is proceeding on the basis of a false premise.
While some of the endocrine researchers who believe chemicals are causing a problem like to popularize their causes by pointing fingers at consumer products to which the public may more easily relate, there is no evidence that any plastic end product is a proper target for estrogenic/ genetic concern.
Your editorial duly noted that ``endocrine disrupters'' (itself a spinmaster's tag based on a still-unproven scientific hypothesis) are ``synthetic chemicals'' that some are saying pose a theoretically major public health issue that could dwarf interest in other environmental concerns. Then, unfortunately, the editorial makes an erroneous intellectual jump by moving from the allusion to synthetic chemicals to infer that plastics are a major part of the problem because a few scientists are saying they are.
The fact is that no one has seriously charged, or provided any valid scientific evidence indicating that any plastics product is an ``endocrine disrupter.'' Such data as they have advanced has related only to a variety of chemicals, a few of which are among the many building blocks used to make plastics.
The fallacy of relating often-highly reactive building blocks like monomers with the almost-never reactive polymers and plastics products made from them should be avoided and needs to be corrected whenever it rears its head. It's about the same as saying people with high blood pressure should avoid driving cars made of steel because salt is used in steel production.
In my 45 years of providing counsel to the plastics industry on environmental and public health issues, I have had to battle this misconception almost every day. On occasion this deception has been practiced deliberately by those who know that the public does not relate to strange chemical names, but can be frightened if it reads reports that household products are made from plastics constructed by polymerizing such chemicals.
Implying that bottles are dangerous because some of their raw materials are alleged to be is unscientific and just plain wrong. Indeed, the record in the case of bisphenol A shows that there is solid proof that BPA does not extract from bottles, when the bottles are tested under appropriately exaggerated temperature and time conditions.
In large part due to some excellent scientific investigatory experiments carried on by a Society of the Plastics Industry-sponsored Inter Industry Task Group formed in 1994, it has been demonstrated that BPA extraction from polycarbonate bottles is nondetectable with methods sensitive to 5 parts per billion. Similar work by the Food and Drug Administration and the British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods has confirmed the task group's finding.
The bottom line: Let's all stop equating chemical building blocks with plastics end products. To do so is a disservice to science, to the industry and to the public.
Heckman is general counsel of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. of Washington.