Chemophobe urges ‘precautionary consumption’

The anti-chemical industry has inadvertently hit upon the market-based solution to its irrational fearmongering.

York University’s Dayne Nadine Scott frets in the Globe and Mail:

Did you breathe a sigh of relief when Canada became the first jurisdiction in the world to declare bisphenol A (commonly known as BPA) toxic in 2010? Or when it banned the chemical in baby bottles, prompting many manufacturers to remove it from their products?

If only that were the full story. The truth is that federal regulation of toxic substances in this country needs a serious overhaul, and new research underlines how critical that is.

We inhale, ingest and absorb a litany of synthetic chemicals into our bodies every day, and improving scientific detection methods are making our toxic “body burdens” increasingly obvious.

Environmental health experts believe the rising incidence of many cancers, developmental syndromes, reproductive disorders and autoimmune diseases can be tied to our exposures to chemicals. An emerging body of research demonstrates that even low levels of exposure to certain chemicals, at certain key times, can have dramatic effects.

In 2006, the Harper government introduced the Chemicals Management Plan, saying it was going to get “tough on toxics.” But recent research finds that, even though it added BPA to the list of toxic substances, the chemical’s still turning up in foods that Canadians commonly consume. Even though we know it leaches into foods such as tomato soup, it continues to be used as an additive in the linings of tin cans.

The critical flaw in our law is that finding a substance “toxic” doesn’t automatically mean the government must actually restrict its use. It “may” regulate, as it did by prohibiting BPA in baby bottles, but it may also choose to keep the substance on the market for economic reasons, or to avoid stigmatizing a particular company’s product.

So although BPA was a high-profile “win” for environmentalists, the limited regulatory action that followed clearly disappoints. Breast-fed babies and fetuses continue to be exposed to BPA as nursing mothers and pregnant women pass on their exposures through canned foods. Indeed, last year, Statistics Canada reported that measurable levels of BPA were found in the urine of 91 per cent of Canadians.

Industry argues that these levels, on their own, shouldn’t worry us, because they demonstrate that the body is constantly eliminating BPA in urine. It points out that the evidence that BPA harms our health is uncertain. Just last month, for example, the U.S. Institute of Medicine acknowledged that common chemicals, including BPA and phthalates, have “biological plausibility” for causing breast cancer, but it declined to declare a causal relationship because the bulk of research has been done on animals, not humans.

As you read this, you’re probably starting to think about strategies for what’s being called “precautionary consumption” – green shopping practices undertaken to try to compensate for the fact that the regulatory system is broken

We support “precautionary consumption” — although we would call it “consumer choice.”

If you don’t like or are afraid of particular products — don’t buy them and, instead, buy the “green” rip-offs.