David Ropeik, author of the "How Risky Is It, Really?" blog on Psychology Today's Web site, has an interesting post yesterday about bisphenol A safety. The post, "Bisphenol A. Balancing Fact and Fear as We Face a Risk," notes that uncertainty, plus some common concerns about the safety of chemicals and the trustworthiness of the chemical industry, make this an issue where the public is naturally worried. "BpA is a CHEMICAL, and just because it's in that category it rings alarm bells. It's a product of the less-than-trusted chemical industry, another category that automatically triggers concern," Ropeik writes. "BpA is human-made, and that makes a risk scarier than if it's natural. (Soy is powerfully estrogenic too. Nobody's demanding that the FDA regulate that!) The risk of BpA, if there is one, is imposed on you via food containers. It's not something you choose, and an imposed risk always evokes more worry than if it's voluntary. BpA is undetectable by our senses, which makes it harder to do anything about, and the less control we feel we have about a risk, the more afraid we usually are. And the science of BpA is uncertain. The fewer facts we have about a risk, the scarier it usually is." Ropeik cautions against banning BPA until manufacturers have time to develop, test and convert to alternative materials.
If we rush to ban BpA, for example, will its replacements produce their own dangers? (We replaced carcinogenic solvents in the electronics industry with chlorofluorocarbons that turned out to destroy stratospheric ozone, which protects us from cancerous rays from the sun. D'Oh!) If we rush to ban BpA from containers of baby foods, can the infant formula industry convert to other ways besides cans to provide all the liquid formula moms need? Not without a lot of time to make that conversion (which some companies are working on already, foreseeing such a ban).I think Ropeik is being a little simplistic with that last point. BPA safety has been an issue in some circles for more than a decade. But progress on creating alternative materials didn't accelerate until public concern grew and regulators and legislators started to take a closer look at the issue. So if alternatives are needed, what incentives do manufacturers have to create them unless the public demands them in the first place? Nonetheless, this is an interesting post from an unlikely source, and I'm sure we'll be hearing more from Ropeik in the future.