Posted by: Shaun | April 17, 2008

BPA Update: Canada to call chemical “Toxic”

This morning’s New York Times cites a Canadian government source stating that a “toxic” label will be appended (bureaucratically speaking) to bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical widely used in plastics and a suspected hormonal disruptor.  As we mentioned yesterday, America’s National Toxicology Program recently issued a report raising concerns about the chemical compound’s health impacts.   But, unlike our northern neighbors, the U.S. doesn’t consider “likely endocrine disruptor” sufficient grounds to regulate a substance contained in plastic baby bottles.  Once a cohort of babies has been tracked over the course of their lives and the suspected developmental pathologies associated are with BPA demonstrated with a high degree of statistical confidence, then we can do something.  (Be on the look out for a ban between 2040 and 2050.)

What I found most interesting about the Times piece was a statement from a researcher who remains skeptical of the findings:

But [Michael D. Shelby] said that research strongly suggested that polycarbonate food and beverage containers and food cans were the main source of human exposure to B.P.A. When asked if people should stop using them, Dr. Shelby replied: “That becomes kind of a personal choice. These are certainly two things people can get around.”

Ah, yes, here we come to the “rational choice” fallacy that underlies so much of modern economic theory.  Why regulate a potentially hazardous substance in consumer products when the consumer his or herself, properly informed of the issue, can make a choice not to buy the product?  Aside from the fact that this assumes that every consumer who purchases plastic products is well versed enough in the science of hormonal development to judge the risks of using said items, when was the last time you bought something with a label reading: “Contains bisphenol A?”  Perhaps I missed that on my Nalgene bottle.

I’m not saying that the average consumer is an incompetent fool who must be guided at every turn by a nurturing “nanny state.”  However, given the complexity of these issues and the amount of time it would take to keep oneself abreast of all the hazards and problems of all the products on the market today, it is entirely unrealistic to believe that consumer choice is the answer problems of product safety.  Certainly it would be ideal if people could know all the facts and choose for themselves in every case, but it’s not going to happen.  That being said, I would venture to assert that in some cases, government regulation, rather than markets, may be the efficient solution where consumer safety is concerned.



  1. Doesn’t it crack you up that big food companies, who are trying to cash in on American’s being lazy, now sell a variety of “dinners” in sealed plastic bags that are designed to make microwave dinners even easier to cook? We ingest more ‘plastic’ than we can even imagine and the worst part is that, although these stories do pop up from time to time, we are still developing new ways to consume the damn stuff.

  2. Ironically, did you know my local REI just pulled all of its BPA-containing Nalgene bottles off the shelves?

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