Free-Market Precautionary Principle In The Heartland


USEPA on occasion has failed to act on the Precautionary Principle. How else might one explain USEPA recommendations that MTBE be used as a gasoline additive for anti-knock and oxygenation properties? During EPA's decision making process in the late 1970's, people must have realized that MTBE could create a bad taste in water, that it had high water solubility and could move more quickly in groundwater than other common fuel components, and that the nation's underground fuel lines and storage tanks were leaking...badly. EPA's decision to reformulate gasoline with still higher MTBE concentrations, a decision which ultimately cost taxpayers millions, if not billions, in solving drinking water contamination issues, seems anything but cautious.

Two decisions don't add up to a trend, but it certainly seems that the Precautionary Principle is still not being followed with BisPhenol-A based plastics being sold into the infant care market. The good news is that when better designed consumer choices appear in the marketplace, EPA's risk management muddling matters less.

As a far-reaching article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel documents, when it comes to BPA-based plastics, the infant care market is showing signs of having lost patience with industry toxicologists quibbling over "weight of evidence." The public opinion jury is in on BPA, and parents are buying glass baby bottles. Gerber is offering them. Glass bottle makers are pleased. This consumer movement reminds us of recent reports of large numbers of consumers seeking US made wooden toys for their children's Christmas presents. Chinese manufacturers and US designers could not be trusted to manage risk, so parents walked out on their offerings.When buying preferences change direction like these two (infant care or toys) have shown signs of doing, no amount of scientific endeavor and consensus reporting on risk will change their direction back. Further studies to defend old designs might even bring a secondary risk. Defensiveness at this juncture can call into question the credibility of even highly laudable climate mitigation programs, for example.

So, as we come to the end of the second major environmental de-regulatory era in the US (the first one having been during the Administration of President Reagan), buying a less hazardous product is understood by consumers to be a more pragmatic recourse than pushing for a ban - which is an effective strategy, of course, only when a superior alternative design is available. That Milwaukee's residents, living far from the "coastal" scenes, are acting with precautionary conviction indicates that European-style thinking has permeated into the US heartland. At last, an invasive species we can admire! When it should infest EPA is the next question.

Caveat: Plain glass bottles pose a physical hazard that plastic bottles do not (breakage). The glass baby bottles pictured in this post are covered with silicone sleeves that extend the product design life and presumably also reduce the potential hazard of baby of being exposed to broken glass. Plus they look good.

This sleeved glass bottle design is an ideal illustration that not all synthetic chemicals are bad and also that not all chemical hazards create unacceptable exposures: e.g. risk depends on the market application, not just on design. BPA based plastics are not intrinsically bad, in other words.

Further example:- Tobacco powder makes a fine organic insecticide, which, when used with adequate respiratory protection, is perfectly safe to use. But, cigarettes are intrinsically hazardous product for all who use them. Both these products are made with the same ingredient substance.

Via::Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Area parents switching to glass for baby's bottle, Plastic fears affecting sales" Image credit::Baby Gadget, Wee Go Sleeved Glass Baby Bottles