Bisphenol A Law Suit Puts Science & Good Government On Trial

paracelsus father toxicology image
Paracelsus, "father of toxicology," by Quentin Massys. Image credit:Wikipedia
Business Insurance has published an article explaining the consolidation, under jurisdiction of a single US court, of 25 lawsuits alleging 'consumer fraud' on the part of companies selling products made of Bisphenol A-based plastics (polycarbonate) and/or incorporating BPA-based coatings.

By the look of the Business Insurance story, should the defendants lose, their costs may be excluded from coverage by insurance. So, losses would go right to the corporate bottom line.

Note: the law suits are not about personal injury; they are about alleged 'consumer fraud'.

My first reaction on reading the story was to want to "un-publish" everything I've ever posted about BPA, so it won't make the suing lawyers job easier. I didn't; and decided, instead, to look at the issue from a very different perspective. While science of BPA risk is undergoing a new and more rigorous scientific review, a task FDA is conducting as you read this, the lawyers pursuing this suit have upped the ante for FDA's work. Instead of being about the science and better policy making, FDA's report will be viewed as all about the money and jobs. As a corollary, it increases the likelihood we'll see climate 'truthiness' lawsuits down the road.

From Business Insurance:-

The lawsuits accuse manufacturers of knowing that BPA is harmful, particularly to infants and children, and failing to warn consumers. They seek economic damages--return of their purchase price for millions of baby bottles and other food containers--as well as punitive damages.
Here's the money quote from BI:
"If the FDA came out and said there is a health hazard, that would take it to an entirely new dimension. My guess is there would be plaintiff lawyers trampling each other on the way to the courthouse," Mr. Vanselow said.

No benefit to enlighted consumers.
Those who have seen previous TreeHugger coverage of the BPA issue have taken polycarbonate out of their lives to the extent feasible: substituting containers of glass, HDPE, stainless steel, or other non-BPA leaching materials. See: Survey: Have You Dumped Your Bisphenol A (BPA) Bottles? :
For the rest of us?
Instead of helping educate consumers on better choices, instead of letting industry, academic, and corporate scientists do their jobs, unhindered by politics and fear of economic mayhem, and instead of pressuring Congress and regulatory agencies do their job, predatory lawyers are doing their part to demonstrate that government is incapable of solving public health problems.

Potential to bias the scientific review toward reduced certainty.
The action so exemplifies the kind of greed-focused "environmentalism" that gave Free Marketer's so much rein with the public's hopes over the last 20 years. Knowing how high the financial ante will be raised by the prospect of widespread industry lawsuits, in a backdrop of employment rates slipping, FDA scientists can hardly be blamed if they become distracted and equivocate on their summary determinations.

What's really on trial.
At the bottom of this pile is a 500-year old science making a severe paradigm shift, touching every scientist involved with chemical risk management. The fundamental precept of toxicology is that "All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison." This is often condensed to: "The dose makes the poison". This old idea, the very basis of all toxicology, originates from the Middle Ages (per Wikipedia). For the several endocrine disrupting chemicals of concern, including BPA, that 500-year old toxicology paradigm has been shown to be highly questionable, possibly invalid. (This is the paradigm that many in industry and government have been operating with up until now.)

For some endocrine disruptors, for example, researchers have not been able measure a traditional "no effect level." Initially, this issue was viewed as marginal to the central point of toxicology, and risk communication went on in the usual manner. Thus, the consolidated legal case puts on trial, indirectly, the most basic principle of toxicology, and all risk communications based on it.

Also on trial, as an indirect counterpoint, is the ability of the Obama Administration to rapidly resurrect the physical resources needed and professional morale at both USEPA and FDA, to the point where chemical risk management by government agencies can once again be counted on to mediate powerful, sometimes conflicting interests, and to find balanced solutions that protect public health.(Another climate action parallel.) We have, therefore, parallel deliberative processes with very high stakes and differing purposes, one in court and the other about to unfold in Washington DC. Only the latter effort will be done in the interest of protecting public health.
More posts on BPA
What Would Happen If BisPhenol A (BPA) Were Phased Out Tomorrow ...
Canada Calls Bisphenol A "Dangerous"
Wal-Mart Dumps BPA Bottles; More Studies Pan BPA :
SIGG Bottles Now BPA Free. But What Were They Before?
Consumers Reports Confirms Bisphenol A Leaches From Tin Cans ...
Nalgene Dumps Bisphenol A Like Hot Potato
Quotes of the Day: Opinions on the FDA Declaring BPA Safe :
FDA Throwing BPA Panel Under the Bus
The Politics of Plastics: Food Fights Over Bisphenol A :
Tipping Point Reached On BPA: Investigative Reporting, Product