90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
The Safety Of Plastics, Beyond B.P.A.

More scrutiny of plastics. Evidence of potential danger now, even in the kinds that were supposed to be safe. We’ll get the latest.

his Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 file photo shows a sculpture made of empty water bottles in Burlington, Vt. New research presented by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 suggests that high levels of BPA, a chemical in many plastics and canned food linings, might raise the risk of miscarriage in women prone to that problem or having trouble getting pregnant.  (AP)

This Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 file photo shows a sculpture made of empty water bottles in Burlington, Vt. New research presented by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 suggests that high levels of BPA, a chemical in many plastics and canned food linings, might raise the risk of miscarriage in women prone to that problem or having trouble getting pregnant. (AP)

The Food and Drug Administration says the chemical bisphenol-A, or B.P.A., is safe – but bans it in baby bottles, baby cups, the packaging for baby formula.  The American Medical Association has deemed B.P.A. an “endocrine disrupting agent.”  Studies have found it mimics estrogen.  Have linked it to cancer, asthma, diabetes, obesity, infertility, heart disease.  Households across the country have cleared their shelves of B.P.A. plastic.  But what if the “B.P.A.-free” plastics – substitutes – are dangerous too?  There’s a huge fight over that right now. This hour On Point:  the safety of plastics.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Mariah Blake, reporter for Mother Jones. (@MariahCBlake)

R. Thomas Zoeller, professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Shuk-Mei Ho, chair of the department of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

From Tom’s Reading List

Mother Jones: The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics — “Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner’s findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.”

Wall Street Journal: No Ill Effect Found in Human BPA Exposure –  “Human exposure to a controversial ingredient in many plastic bottles and food containers is too low to be worrisome, according to a closer look at 150 studies of an additive called bisphenol A, widely known as BPA. A toxicologist at the federal Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reported Friday that he had re-examined studies covering blood levels of BPA, which in high enough doses can mimic the sex hormone estrogen, among 30,000 people in 19 countries, including women and infants.”

Newsweek: BPA Levels Higher in Men With Prostate Cancer: Study – ” new study published Monday in the journal Plos One found that men with prostate cancer have BPA in their urine at levels 2- to 4-fold higher than cancer-free men. Aging is the best-known risk for prostate cancer, which makes the study’s findings particularly salient: BPA concentrations were especially high in prostate cancer patients under the age of 40, when aging is less of a contributing factor to the development of prostate cancer.”

R. Thomas Zoeller’s Tips On Reducing BPA Exposure

More Tips From R. Thomas Zoeller

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Joe KomaGawa

    As You know we can find traces everywhere on the planet.
    1. IS it fair to say that at least some amount is detected in all mammals? If not, what are the percentages of mammals where it is found?
    2. What is the life of these

  • Joe KomaGawa

    2. what is the life of these chemicals? and what do they breakdown into?

  • Joe KomaGawa

    Is there some research about a microbe that exists near the deep sea vents which can break down these chemical chains?

  • Joe KomaGawa

    4. What scientists are blogging about their research in this field? The reason I asked is that years ago I tried to get my students researching this for science writing class and we couldn’t find anything outside of scientific journal citations.

  • Joe KomaGawa

    What is the estimated number of different products using BPA that can be found in and around an average family home?
    Are there other BPA imitators? How many and what are some?
    Is there any way to observe these chemicals in real time in interaction with living creatures in the laboratory?
    Are the North European countries ahead of the US in research on this issue?
    Yes Tom, I listen to your show as often as I can through the Internet here in Japan. First rate stuff. You usually seem well prepared ;-)

  • andrewgarrett

    Would it be even more unsafe to take the harmful ingredients out, and have softer or more brittle plastics which then break in babies’ mouths and cause death by choking? Which is going to cause more harm?

    • Don_B1

      The snark response is that brittle objects break, soft objects may or may not tear depending on the toughness of the material. As a case in point, I still have Tupperware containers from my childhood that have held up well, i believe from an era before BPA.

  • Joe KomaGawa

    last question, for now. What are the beneficial uses of this and similar chemicals? they seem to have harmful side effects when in contact with living organisms but there must be some redeeming feature about them? Perhaps they can be used to fight some disease?
    Oh, one more last question, as far as high school science projects go, can a student make/buy cheap equipment to study this topic at home? I realize that the emphasis is on very tiny traces effects over long periods of time, and this appears on the surface to require expensive equipment. But surely there are ways to use concentrations on bacteria, or fruit flies to get some observations over multiple generations, does one of your guests think this is reasonable?

  • Charles Vigneron

    Microscopic plastic beads in bath soap is becoming food for our fresh water fishes. Who couldn’t see that coming?

    • DeJay79

      could? yes. Wanted to in light of profits? no.

  • brettearle

    “Benjamin….I’d like to say one word to you: `Plastics’… Remember it…”

    [A paraphrase]

    • hennorama

      brettearle — one of the best parts of Oscar season is TCM’s “31 Days Of Oscar.”

      As part of their “1967 Best Picture Nominees… The 40th Year,” they showed The Graduate on March 1st (following an absolutely amazing “Best Picture Winner Marathon”).

      Watching it again, I noticed Simon & Garfunkel’s music more, as well as Sam O’Steen editing. One wonderful moment combining both happened during the first tryst. When the light is turned off, the lyric “Hello darkness, my old friend” begins.

      And of course, Buck Henry’s front desk clerk role was priceless.

      It’s a real gem.

      [PS] See:
      http://31days.tcm.com/2014_31DaysSchedule.pdf

      • brettearle

        “Are you here for an Affair sir?”

        “Hello, sir”
        “Good evening, sir”

        “Benjamin,, they seem to know you!”
        “Don’t be silly. I look like someone else.”

      • brettearle

        “Beneath the Halo
        Of the 8th Street Lamp…”

  • Shag_Wevera

    Sorry folks, but I can’t shake the feeling that there are bigger and more obvious fish to fry.

  • AC

    is this the ‘lead’ of my generation?! the ‘asbestos’? should i ask someone to test my BPA levels?

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    Disposable plastic = oxymoron.

    We have turned the oceans into a plastic laden soup. This is not a small problem. Plastic has entered the food chain.

    Plastic recycling is essentially a joke. We ship it overseas (to China, mostly) using even more oil, and it gets melted down by people who are doing it at their own peril. This is basically a tiny bandage on a spurting artery.

    We all need to take this head on – check out http://myplasticfreelife.com/

    And please watch ‘Tapped’ on Netflix!

    • brettearle

      Thanks.

      This point ought to be made much more paramount in Media.

  • AC

    that’s odd, my comment disappeared?
    i was wondering if this was the ‘asbestos/lead’ learning moment for my generation and also, if i should ask for my own levels to be checked and nip anything in the bud!
    oops it showed up, guess i’m suffering lag….

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Discus has some quirks.

      • J__o__h__n

        No, it is perfect as always. I wish I could vote down your comment but they improved that option.

        • Steve__T

          Yeah I wonder why the down arrow is still there? It doesn’t work.

  • georgepotts

    How different is the BPA effect is different from natural estrogen effects of tofu and garbanzo beans?

  • georgepotts

    Isn’t plastic manufacturing capturing carbon?

  • Don_B1

    A related problem, though not directly, is the way oral contraceptives are also spread throughout the waters of this planet. And that fact may also contribute to women’s problems getting pregnant?

    Has the design and use of the IUD been improved so that many women could use that rather than the pill? Subject for another program, but it does fit in the overriding problem of how humans are befouling their environment.

  • Coastghost

    If our commercial chemical industries merit such concern (more or less), how can our commercial BIO-CHEMICAL industries merit any less concern?
    Recalling Hume’s demonstration that no logical connection between “is” and “ought” is forthcoming, our biological science community (cf. the recent show on fertility research involving mitochondrial DNA transplants, we could also cite the advent of contraceptives for women) seems to’ve gladly dispense with all moral considerations in order simply to demonstrate what their science, research, and technology permit.
    Feyerabend’s appeal to separate science from state just as assiduously as bio-scientists and other members of the science mafia scream for the separation of state from church and religion merits serious and prolonged consideration. (Think for one moment just how EASY it would be at this point to effect Feyerabend’s notion.)

  • Informed American

    First the federal govt. said it was safe to drink out of plastic bottles with BPA, now we’re learning that plastics with BPA may not be safe, years later and after tens of millions of Americans have possibly been poisoned. This is just more proof of the total incompetence of the federal govt. and why it shouldn’t be trusted.

    • Don_B1

      No, the question is why did the FDA initially approve the use of BPA and how much was it influenced by the plastics industry, both in the initial legislation empowering the EPA and FDA to presume chemicals safe until shown not safe, and its subsequent chemical testing.

  • James

    Does anybody else feel like if we couldn’t consume anything that is remotely toxic, then we would be living in caves and forced to where breathing mask when we approached the to cook our food?

  • Nate Barker

    Can your guests speak to the issue of the plumbing in our homes. We can choose to not buy plastic water bottles but a vast majority of plumbing in homes is cPVC, PVC, or PEKs. With the price of copper pipe sky high how can we even get pure water into our kitchen taps?

  • scrabble12

    I really dislike the language used in discussing this issue. Everyone constantly talks about the regulation of the chemical industry. There is no regulation and that is why there are always problems.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      I don’t know how you can even assert with a straight face that “there is no regulation”. If anything, these industries are so over-regulated that alternatives are more costly to bring to market than they are worth, often at the behest of the large corporations that benefit from the very regulations that are supposed to rein in their behavior. (See “regulatory capture”.) More regulations will not solve this problem.

      • Ray in VT

        Considering how companies that are bringing these products and chemicals into our lives are not required to show that these products are safe for humans to use, as they are in some countries, then, in that regard, how can one argue that they are over-regulated?

        • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

          Regulations have created a situation in which only the largest companies can survive, simply by virtue of the overhead imposed by the regulation. Combined with regulatory capture, what you have is a system in which regulations are not there to protect the public, but are instead there to protect large incumbent corporations from competition.

          I’d further argue that even if you start with a regime in which the regulations do exactly the right thing, with time you’d end up in exactly the same situation because the incentives in the system steer regulatory agencies toward regulatory capture and anti-competitive regulations.

          Give people more information, while at the same time reducing red tape to the point at which the little guy can compete. That is how you drive bad products out of the market.

          • Ray in VT

            A marketplace without regulation will not produce a situation where bad products are driven out of the market. It did not work in the past, and I have no faith in it doing so in the future. Having more companies putting out products that are in no way tested in order to determine whether or not they are safe isn’t going to create safer products.

          • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

            I think you would have a hard time arguing that such a scenario is any worse than where we find ourselves today, which is that big corporations put out whatever they want, with the cover of government agencies telling everyone “It’s safe (and you can trust us because we’re from the government!)”, and with no competition from smaller producers who can’t even get into the market in the first place because the red tape prices them out.

            I’d rather have choice, information, and the possibility of harm, than no choice, no information, and the virtual guarantee of harm.

            Frankly, your desired endpoint is a fairy tale: we will never get to a situation in which regulation will guarantee that all the products you buy are safe because big corporations and their cronies in government will never permit such an outcome. Instead, you’ll get the illusion of safety while the same dirty tricks are played behind the scenes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back to the bad old days of three auto makers, three TV networks, four appliance makers, two airlines, etc. in which there were a few government-blessed choices, all working together to keep progress from happening (because progress is expensive and bad for business).

          • Ray in VT

            If you think that such a scenario is better than what we now have, then perhaps you need to read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I think that problem is that the government isn’t taking a stand on these chemicals. They are merely silent. Perhaps they should do the testing and then give a stamp based upon the results. That seems to be a far better system.

            Perhaps you trust “the market” to provide us with the best and safest choices, but if you do, considering what has happened historically, then I think that you are woefully uninformed as to how bad it was and how bad it could be.

          • Joe KomaGawa

            Please give me an example in the plastics industry.

          • Joe KomaGawa

            give me an example in this show’s topic context.

      • scrabble12

        There are some 62,000 chemicals that were never tested by the EPA because they were not considered an “unreasonable risk.” This gap in testing effectively grandfathered these chemicals into the TSCAs existing chemicals list. Testing and research on these chemicals is virtually non-existent, with only 200 of the more than 60,000 existing chemicals tested directly by the EPA.

        There has been only limited success controlling the chemicals that have actually been tested by the EPA under TSCA and deemed dangerous to the public health. In the 35 years since TSCA only five chemicals (PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos, and hexavalent chromium) have been banned or strictly regulated and the ban on asbestos was overturned in 1991.I truly believe that the EPA is nearly powerless or completely uninterested in taking regulatory action against dangerous chemicals, even those known to cause cancer or other serious health effects.
        New chemicals/substances created since 1976 – all a company has to do is to notify the EPA of their intention to manufacture a new chemical by using what the industry calls a PMN. PMN is a pre-manufacturing notice but companies are not required to include any safety info on the new chemical. So the EPA runs a computer modeling and rubber stamps the new chemical. So yeah, I really don’t think there’s a lot of real and meaningful regulation.

        • Joe KomaGawa

          What is the source of this 62,000 and 200?
          What is the cause of that/this situation?

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    So-called fire suppressants in our clothing and furniture and carpets are another big concern.

    We should have forced cigarette makers to stop putting accelerants in cigarettes – which is the actual cause of many fires that the suppressants are supposed to protect us against.

    • DeJay79

      as more e-cigs come on board old style cigarettes are going to die out, soon.

      Industries can change surprisingly quick, remember when there was a blockbuster in every major shopping center? My wife just told me that there is still 51 locations open.

      • https://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

        E-cigs will replace regular cigarettes only if the nanny-staters don’t ban them first. I detest smoking, and take every opportunity I can to avoid smoke and shun smokers, but damn it if E-cigs aren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread: we should be encouraging people to switch to them because AFAICT they are completely and utterly benign to be around as a non-smoker.

  • georgepotts

    Whole foods puts milk in plastic jugs.

    • nj_v2

      The sun rises in the east.

      (Add your own random fact.)

  • scullymom

    Question – soft plastics also contain doses of estrogen? what is a good alternative for freezer storage?

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      We have Pyrex food storage containers – that only have plastic lids. Wrapping in freezer paper is also possible for some foods.

      • scullymom

        thanks Neil, Does the coating on the inside of freezer paper contain any toxins? It is a huge struggle to switch. I have tried.eliminating as many plastics as possible and it is sooo difficult to purchase food that is not stored in plastic. Then you start to think, oh hell, I’m never going to get around this, so why bother. Regulation is going to be the only thing to drive research and development of other storage products that are convenient or just drive food companies to use glass. This is an unbelievably huge mountain to tackle that I don’t foresee changes in anytime soon.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          That’s a good question. I hope that someone can tell us.

        • Joe KomaGawa

          go read the link of the PlasticFree blog up earlier in this discussion.

  • James

    Tom, how do cancer rates in the United States compare to cancer rates in Europe and Japan?

    • Joe KomaGawa

      In Japan there are different cancers. those related to plastics are probably the same. we are surrounded by plastics

  • ShauShaw

    Why do companies want to poison their customers?

    What is the purpose of these chemical in the plastic making process.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      They can be made cheaply.

      • Don_B1

        And their toxicity is not high and is difficult to trace, therefore deniable.

    • DeJay79

      money is money the companies don’t care about how “healthy” the person is who gave it to them. A sick persons money spends the same.

      and on this planet its not like they are going to run out of customers.

  • Mari McAvenia

    Is anybody looking after our health? We’re supposed to be doing that, ourselves. I remember the days before everybody carried their own plastic water bottles everywhere. Drinking water is good for your health, sure, and most people know this. What they don’t know is that the plastic bottles they constantly sip from are extremely toxic, pretty much negating the health benefits of drinking water. I never bought into the “single-serving, no sharing” commercial hype pushed by bottled water giant Nestle and other mega-corporations, myself, but still face the risks of BPAs EVERYWHERE. How on earth can we avoid this poison at every turn at this late date? Return to filtered tap water and glass vessels, maybe? It worked quite well for a few millennia. Still does. Much cheaper, too.

    • StilllHere

      I prefer to suck on the metal splash guard on the water fountain in the park.

      • Yar

        More effective than a flu shot.

    • Don_B1

      The problem once these chemicals become widely present in the environment is that common filters DO NOT remove them from the water, including city water filter systems.

      Since most of these chemicals do not easily break down, it will be generations and more before they disappear.

  • Yar

    We can’t fight this one chemical at a time, we have to return to a less chemical lifestyle. Put Pandora back in the box.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      We need to invert the status quo: something needs to be proven to be safe before it is ever used.

      We have just the opposite for everything except medical drugs.

      • Don_B1

        And even with medical drugs (or implants) it sometimes takes a larger sample size before low rates of problems are determined, after the followup time has expired.

    • Joe KomaGawa

      the future generations of amorphous humans will find a way out. this will be known as the plastics era, among other names.

  • Yar

    How do you separate the source of the contamination?
    Atrazine has estrogenic properties as well.
    https://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/home_maps/atrazine_gw.html

  • Coastghost

    No rBGH in MY milk, my dairy assures me. No claim is made on the packaging about the qualities of the plastic my milk arrives in.

  • Mandala8

    What is it about the US that allows industry to care more about profits than public health safety? That would be a great program, Tom. It must have to do with our focus on a materialistic, profit-priority, “It’s business” value that allows more than the 1% to justify anti-human activity. At a base level, it’s the same mind set that allows folks to rape: humans are objects – either to take out our emotional wounding on or to make profits without regard for unhealthy effects. Another way to look at it is the “them” and “us” mentality, where most folks in our daily lives are “them.” Pretty scary! It’s a deteriorating notion of our disconnection as humans vs the reality that we are all in the same human boat.

    • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

      I agree. I think this is a culture wide problem. A kind of ‘mind set’ throughout our entire society, with an emphasis on ‘convenience’ and ‘pay the lowest price’ priorities. Our job is not just to regulate industry, for I think that is only part of the problem. We also must be actively teaching each other that there is no “us” and “them” in the form of “the people” versus “industry” (them), but instead it’s all “us” in the long run. Our purchasing power is the ultimate power in the marketplace, but as we who do the purchasing, it is our priorities that must change to avoid these kind of unnecessary chemical risks, exploitation of the environment, etc.

      • Joe KomaGawa

        education is the key to a democratic market place, however the marketing can respond with lightening speed to our psychology which often fights with our head and through our pocketbooks.

      • The poster formerly known as t

        Our society is fundamentally about is vs them. The average person is disposable and replaceable and therefore has little value. That’s how large scale civilizations function. That is why there is so much pressure among people to be above-average and be exceptional. That is why Harvard’s tuition is so high and why everyone sends their kids to college. Unfortunately, education is and economic worth do not correlate as closely as we would like. I’m sorry, most people spend so much time deceiving each other I don’t think that we will ever get out of the mess. There is too much to gain to sell someone a sack of lies and dress it up in optimism. Radical changes to our lifestyles would make many people materially poorer and they know it and resist any change.

  • malkneil

    This is just one example of the at-best dubious status of a compound that is in products all around us. You begin to wonder who to believe and how to keep tabs on all these chemicals we get exposed to. It seems like cancer is becoming more and more ubiquitous among our population. How can we make intelligent sense of it all?

  • nontoxicissexy

    Yes, we should limit our exposure to BPA where we can. But! The onus should not be on the consumer to protect themselves from BPA and other toxic chemicals in our everyday environments. The responsibility lies with the chemical makers. We need company leadership/innovation and real gov. regulation over chemicals: We need to make sure that they are safe before they are put on the market in the first place.

  • Nicole Antal

    Even when you make all the best decision (eating organic, raw local food), it seems like you can’t avoid putting your health at risk.
    I hate to generalize, but it seems like it WAS better “before”.

  • seszoo

    Interesting topic here .I’m one of those under the age of 65 with prostate cancer,I’ve been tested over and over ,had an operation (failure ) ,The intensive radiation treatment and hormone shots , ,all since 2009 , and still have it , In all my tests blood ,urine and biopseys ,I can’t remember ever any one mentioning this BPA, Is this something I should bring up next time I meet with the doctor ? I’ve always been aware of plastic and heating it up ,but growing up in the 60s and beyond ,plastic has been a big part of life .

    • John_Hamilton

      I can tell you with almost absolute certainty that the response will be an all-knowing derision or something to the effect of “If this were a factor we would have heard about it long ago.”

      Doctors, and the medical profession in general, are very paranoid about anything that threatens their primacy in all medical situations. They have to be in the position of the giver of health, something similar to priests in Catholicism, where they are the intermediaries to health.

      I would recommend that you see a naturopath to see how you could cleanse of the harmful toxins in your system, but your doctor(s) would freak out. They would claim you are interfering with your “treatment,” and may make matters worse. They need total control, and another perspective reduces that control.

      My sister died of uterine cancer last year, and she was an R.N. Her husband was a surgeon, and though he was not a smoker, died of lung cancer in 2005. There was no way I could tell either of them to do anything other than the intrusive and ineffective orthodox therapies (chemo & radiation) they were going through. It would be against their religion.

      Good luck. I’m older, face the same prospect you are experiencing. I take some things like saw palmetto, pumpkin seed, nettle and a couple of other things. My downfall is caffeine, which has negative effects on the prostate. We’re here until we aren’t. This is a very strange era.

  • John_Hamilton

    The reason the plastics industry is able to get away with pushing poisonous products onto the market is that the profits they produce keep the economy going. Barry Commoner (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Commoner) explained this in his pioneering book “The Closing Circle,” where he described how the introduction of synthetics after World War II enabled economic growth until the mid-70s.

    Since that time the motors for growth have been in lower wages and the lowered physical output requirements of computer technology. You can see where this is going. Our society is stressing to its breaking point on lower wages, and the glut of computer-based products is in a diminishing returns phase, so the next growth provider will have to be something even more nebulous.

    In this context it is easy to see why the FDA, EPA and any other regulatory agency will be powerless and ineffective, to say nothing of corrupted. Take away BPA and you take away easy profits. In economic terms, the input/output ratio would raise, lowering profits. Lower profits mean lower or negative growth, and in our hyper-propagandized dialogue infrastructure, anything that threatens growth of output is tantamount to communism.

    In other words, poisonous products are here to stay, at least as long as our infinite-growth dependency prevails. Of course, global climate change will have something to say about infinite-growth, and is already telling us to change.

    As a people, we won’t change until there is no other option in the exact present tense – until physical survival in the present moment depends on giving up delusion. As we have seen with drug and other kinds of addicts, even the prospect of immediate death may not be enough to make people change.

    • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

      Sad, but likely true (that we resist change until the 11th hour). The question is, how close are we to that 11th hour today?
      Is it possible that a confluence of stories like this, plus more record breaking weather events, and others, are finally getting us closer to this point?
      And, if “the public” becomes more motivated to change, what kinds of actions are people likely to take once the perception of ‘a crisis’ is present? With little planning, the transitions are likely to be chaotic, messy, and lead to unpredictable results.
      At the same time, there are seeds of change already growing, embodied in nascent movements to eat locally grown food, shift diets in other ways, move away from fossil fuels, even by walking more and driving less, etc. Community means of exchange (non monetary economies, or local scrip projects) all may stand to grow suddenly into the mainstream as the current hierarchically based large institutions (businesses, non-profits, governments, etc.) show more and more signs of failure or ineffectiveness.

      • Don_B1

        Exactly! Just as with Climate Change, the human race is likely to wait beyond the huge tipping point that cannot easily be reversed. The current dangers are more subtle than the attacking tiger or the enemy tribe, and thus can be discounted until their disastrous impact is clear but unavoidable.

    • Don_B1

      There might not be change even in the disaster time you envision, if the campaign-finance system is not changed, limiting the influence that big money has on getting people elected to office.

      See: Lawrence Lessig and his efforts to change the campaign-finance system:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/lawrence_lessig_we_the_people_and_the_republic_we_must_reclaim

      and

      http://longnow.org/seminars/02012/jan/17/how-money-corrupts-congress-and-plan-stop-it/

      Then go to the site where further action is being advocated:

      http://www.rootstrikers.org/#!/

      • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

        I think it is much too late to reform the campaign finance system. Look at the numbers. Each representative in Congress is supposed to be elected by and then represent 500,000 voters, on average. To campaign and then communicate with that many people takes huge money, no matter what. To think we’re going to limit the money in politics under these conditions, I submit is sheer folly.
        If anything, we’re looking at much more radical changes, now going on. More decentralization of action, more diversity of approaches, more local level creative change. Washington is pretty much done for. And that’s not a bad thing. I’m not putting effort into saving Washington anymore. I’m turning my attention to local action that can get things done in a collaborative way.
        We can do as much or more good by teaching each other that we and nature are one, that we can have a good life by helping each other instead of living an “every man for himself” culture of the past. We can find more happiness if we buy less stuff, need less money, and strengthen our connections within our communities.

        • Don_B1

          Certainly the current set, and future members, of Congress will not reform the system on their own. They will have to see a credible threat from the electorate, with the real possibility of a Constitutional Convention, probably, to make them do anything along those lines.

          But the public can do this as they have in the past, but it will definitely not be easy. The education of the public necessary is a Herculean task if ever there was one, but those tipping points are about to arrive and time is short!

  • Omar

    Does anyone know if Pyrex is safe?

    • cindyhebbard_herbaleducator

      Pyrex and other glass is likely the safest option we have for food storage.

    • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

      Pyrex is glass, made extremely pure and annealed in a special process to make the glass more dense than ordinary glass. It ends up being much stronger that way. I’m no expert, but I’d say it’s very unlikely to have any polymers (such as BPA) in it because of the extreme heat necessary to make it.
      In general, I don’t know of anything leaching out of glass, which is primarily silicon dioxide (one atom of silicon, plus two oxygen atoms). This is the same stuff that quartz crystals are composed of, the main component of everything from mountains to beach sand.
      Do not confuse the element silicon with a compound known by the trade name “Silicone” – a human made compound with hydrogen atoms bonded to the element silicon, to form molecules very similar to carbon based compounds. Silicones can be polymerized into rubbery or plastic like materials. They were originally developed for their extreme electrical insulating properties by General Electric, but also have seen use as a substitute for rubber and other natural materials.

  • Willie Lavoy Allison

    True tests would have to be made with fresh spring water right out of a mountain stream. It is not fair to the plastic companies to say that their products have BPA when it could be the source of water or a bi-product of chlorine and PVC water pipes. If acidy foods is said to release BPA when heated or left in the sun then what about the water used to package it from the company that produced it. I think that this garbage about plastics having BPA being dangerous is not fully researched at the right level before they started scaring everyone.

    • Joe KomaGawa

      Yep. by the time we know for sure, it sure won’t benefit you or me.

  • Sandy2118

    Thank you for covering this topic. Please schedule a show on the regulation of toxic chemicals. The bills proposed in Congress do not go far enough to protect human health.

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Consider that the backbone of the economy is under the control of a “cartel”. This cartel has systematically and incrementally gained complete control of mass media, and more insidiously the government itself.
    The AMA, big Pharma, big oil, the chemical industry, big agra., etc. have us by the b-lls.
    These companies are run by a small elite group of evil individuals who are not only not concerned for public safety, they actually have a forward world vision which involves systematically “culling” global population back down to preindustrial revolution levels. This would explain why these industries are actively involved in writing the very legislation in congress that allows them to profit by slowing poisoning the public, and the environment.
    It is not until the public gets beyond the smokescreen that was is coming out of Washington is “democracy” in the current 2 party system ping-ponging government dysfunctioning back and forth with each other, and at the very least (the public) calls for a constitutional convention, to re-examine the machinations of government. More drastic action is probably necessary, given the radical level of environment toxification causing cancers and climate change at alarming rates, due to rampant industrial excess.
    Whether any change to the status quo will happen though, before it is too late, is highly doubtful.
    The people in the U,S. have become like the lobster placed in a pot of cold water and then the flame is lit, which warms the water so slowly that the lobster never reacts, and is boiled to death before it realizes it is even in trouble.

    • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

      Evil individuals? Culling? I’ll leave all that up to discussion. In my book, we are seeing the side effects of certain culture wide assumptions about profit, getting rich quick, obtaining the ‘easy life’ and avoiding the scary questions as long as life seems good. To me, such a culture is much more scary than a “small elite group” any day.
      We are also attempting to use a government structure designed for a much smaller population, which is now overextended so much that it is failing before our eyes. There are plenty who blame the ‘other party’ but to me this is a systemic breakdown; the partisan bickering in Congress is just a symptom, not the cause.
      I think a Constitutional Convention is thinking in the right direction, but at this point, I don’t see any single government working well for a nation of over 317 million people. Rather, I see much smaller institutions now having the flexibility and adaptability to take action on more local levels on issues where Washington remains stuck. Think mayors and some governors, perhaps. Think smaller non-profit groups, who can take action quickly and get things done, while Washington flounders. Think individuals who can install solar panels in a matter of weeks, whereas the siting of massive power plants (even solar or wind) takes years, not to mention the aging power grid, which is still sitting there, for the most part.

      • Oliver Wendell Holmes

        We fundamentally disagree here. When you say; “I don’t see any single government working well for a nation of over 317 million people.” Although we can probably agree that the federl government the way it’s constituted now, is bloated, inefficient and corrupt, and should be broken up, I don’t think it’s the “size” of government, per se, that’s the problem, it’s who it works for. So long as “the people” are kept away from the machinations of government, or whatever reason, the corporations will fatten themselves at the trough at the peoples perile. A whole “restructuring” of government is what’s needed, on a scale large enough to tackle global problems. I fail to see how smaller governments with only regional jurisdictions can handle these types of issuesnthat are global in scale, like the “plastics conundrum” this show is dealing with.

        • The poster formerly known as t

          Corporations are made up people. In societies with large populations, there is no such thing as the “common good” anymore because everyone is looking out for people in their own socioeconomic class. We have 1000s years of recorded history that just shows that civilizations with large populations arose to serve the interests or a narrow group of people.
          Human societies need to be right-sized so we live in a way that is compatible with the way most people are hard-wired to live: in small homogeneous communities. All the education, incarceration and violence will not make us able to care about strangers far far away.

          • Oliver Wendell Holmes

            Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address said that we have a “Government of the people, for the people, by the people…” What’s happened is that this government has been slowly wrested from the people, and now special interests use it almost exclusively. A constitutional convention is long overdue, t address fundamental issues such as the curtailing corporate powers, but most people in the US are are so far divorced from politics, that they don’t know how or where to begin.

      • Joe KomaGawa

        There’s a lot of sense in what you say here.

  • Nanette

    Excellent show. Scary and daunting but informative. Thanks for that.

    I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to also watch the documentary, “Bag It,” which discusses the environmental hazards of plastic use and health effects of BPA and phthalates in plastic.

    When we talk about replacing food items currently sold in plastic with glass packaging, this brings up the environmental costs and increased “carbon footprint” associated with getting heavier goods to market. To that end, it behooves us to “balance” the pros and cons. Clearly eating locally grown and purveyed food is best but not always available or affordable. Perhaps much of this could be solved if Americans tossed aside our “I want it all and I want it now” mantra. Many of our issues could be solved that way!

  • meme1976

    I am surprised no one has mentioned that the numbers on plastic containers will tell you if it contains BPA or not. A number seven indicates that the plastic contains BPA. In addition, numbers three and six are deemed unsafe.

  • Beth Greeley

    I called Del Monte and Progresso and e-mailed Goya after the show because I use their canned tomatoes, soups and beans. Del Monte told me they are making the move away from BPA-lined cans due to “changing consumer preferences”, not because of safety. They couldn’t say when this change would be complete. Progresso told me the company has no plans to change from BPA since the FDA says it’s safe. Haven’t heard from Goya yet.

  • evillesue

    Do these endocrine disrupters have anything to do with the earlier age of the onset of puberty in boys? Studies show that the average age of pubertal onset has fallen by 1.5 years since last mid-century.

    • Don_B1

      At least in girls, some of the earlier onset of puberty is attributed to overweight, and that could well be true for boys also, though that is not clear. Note that extremely thin girls have delayed puberty and can even stop menstruating if they overexercise, effects that I have not heard of in males.

      The chemicals talked about here are mostly estrogen imitators so it is likely that they would have different effects in boys. Note that the use of the pill has put trace amounts in just about every water supply (probably not mountain streams), so real estrogen is out there also.

  • ML

    i am so glad I donate to Mother Jones Investigative Fund. MJ is the one who put out the Romney 47% video. My money is put to good use.
    You too can support them

    http://www.motherjones.com/about/support

  • Loretta Fisher

    As a cashier, I’m concerned about daily exposure to BPA in the thermal heat receipt paper my boss uses. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/check-your-receipt-it-may-be-tainted/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

  • burroak

    Is that number correct, over 80,000 chemicals used in our nation; and only a small percentage of them do we know their side effects; no wonder we are seeing an onslaught of cancers.
    On a side note, why was it so quick and easy for the House of Representatives to pass an aid bill to Ukraine, but no aid bill to America’s infrastructure or more investigative funding on the everyday chemicals that interact and contact our nations food?

    • Susan Keach Sweeney

      “Real” sciences did the research they are talking about.

  • jytdog

    This show is remarkably one-sided and irresponsible. There is an unfortunate artificial-chemical-phobia – almost a religion – widespread in the US middle class, fed by ignorance and a distrust in our institutions. This is one of the most unfortunate legacy of the 1970s – a glorification of the “natural” and an erosion of trust in the “establishment.” The ignorance part – 1) we are exposed daily to thousands of chemicals from the natural world; the vast majority of which have never been studied. The ones that have been prove to be about as estrogenic and carcinogenic as artificial ones; 2) toxicology is a science, in which you carefully design experiments to help you understand what a chemical does at the doses to which people are exposed to it, and the way you are exposed to it. Injecting a huge load of BPA into a mouse is a useless experiment. We get it in small doses, and we are mostly exposed to it orally. (Your digestive system processes things a lot, before they hit your bloodstream); 3) “endocrine disruption” is still just a hypothesis. We don’t fully understand if it really effects human health or not. The distrust part: folks who work for the EPA, FDA, and regulatory institutions around the world are great public servants, and work very hard to protect the public. The disdain of your guests, and many of the commentors here, is just disheartening. Clearly they have no idea what actually goes on in these agencies. Why in the world did you not interview an actual toxicologist, or somebody from the EPA? Why did you not pick a single mainstream scientist, and only these alarmists? Terrible.

    • Susan Keach Sweeney

      “Real” “mainstream” scientists did the research they are talking about. It’s been reported in journals and newspapers. It’s not a question of phobia and mistrusting the EPA; they can’t investigate everything at the same time. It’s a question of science. Of course science is not static. New findings continually appear. It’s a good idea to be open minded to these findings.

      • jytdog

        Original studies in the biomedical space are notoriously unreliable. (The journal Nature recently raised its standards to try to deal with these issues – see here http://preview.tinyurl.com/cjaaq3v) Real science is messy (especially biological science) – it takes a long time to figure out what is going on. Science builds slowly. What has happened, is that the media now touts publications of research findings as Big News with Big Consequences, way before there is consensus in a given field that the conclusions are valid and that the results are replicable. Activist groups pounce on these preliminary results and try to change policy based on them. Companies that have invested in products under discussion push back. And the public ends up feeling jerked around. It is ugly and unfortunate. Irresponsible journalism like this show makes the problem worse. There are serious and important discussions that we as a society need to have about risk management (which is SO unsexy – nothing like THAT BABY BOTTLE IS HARMING YOUR CHILD) – we need to balance innovation and precaution in a way that makes sense, as much as possible. There was really no earnest discussion of risk management in this show. Very disappointing.

    • TJPhoto40

      Your comments are far more distorted than anything presented in the program you decry. There was no hysteria or fear-mongering on the part of the guests here, two of whom are respectable scientists or medical professionals. Yes, it was more “one-sided” than some shows by virtue of not having a contrary voice, but I thought the guests came across as knowledgeable and concerned, not “alarmist” as you claim. Are you a shill for the chemical lobby or just reactionary when you disagree with the voices of those who are simply trying to inform and warn the public about possible health consequences based on credible science?

      As for the EPA, FDA and other regulatory agencies you laud, I’m sure there are some good public servants in those agencies, but it’s shameful how many of the key administrators come from and/or go into jobs with the very industries they were charged with regulating while in government service. It’s also shameful how little they actually do to protect the public in many key areas, not just because of limited funding and staff but also because of a concerted effort to support the industries they were supposed to be watchdogs over. I didn’t hear any real disdain by the guests except some reasonable critique from Maria Blake about the cozy relationship that these agencies have had with the industries they supposedly regulate. Clearly, you yourself have no idea what goes on in those agencies. You obviously listened carelessly and with a jaundiced view of the whole proceeding, having started with a negative mindset about any environmental concern expressed.

      Yes, it might have been humorous to have a scientist on who is heavily corrupted by his own cozy relationship with the chemical industry. It’s sad that many of our best universities have fallen prey to the lure of big research grant money that compromises many scientists harbored by those institutions. If you’re not troubled by the fact that chemicals are allowed in our food products and everything else without any real testing for safety before they’re approved, you’re not so much objective and balanced as you are oblivious and trusting of industries that have frequently betrayed our trust and don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

      • jytdog

        Your post embodies exactly what I described. It is really sad that so many people are so scared of chemicals, for so little reason. And the larger issue is so clear in what you write– this sloppy suspicion of our institutions is destroying our country from within. Everybody is moving into little bubbles and the solid, reasonable middle ground is disappearing fast. That guy gets his news from Kos and HuffPost; that gal gets her news from Fox. Different WORLDS. Both lacking balance and any desire to see that things are more often grey than black and white. It is tragic.

        • The poster formerly known as t

          If you look at press from the 1800s, you will realize that we are regressing to the historical mean. We are returning to the historical norm of people preferring to share biased accounts of events in order to make friends and influence people. The thinking is that people are sheep, unable to make to make judgments for themselves and need guidance in the form or biased information. ” Alain de Botton made a case for this a few weeks ago. http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/02/27/headlines-news-media-newspapers-journalism.

  • douginct

    You started the show asking if some of us have gone back to Mason jars. Damn straight. Industry has proven it cannot be trusted, and nor can it’s supposed regulators. Why bring unnecessary risk into your life, and especially around children, who are many more times susceptible to environmental toxins.

  • Erin Seckso

    I find it very interesting that some big wigs at Eastman Chemical cashed out/dumped a ton of their shares in the company a few days ago.

  • donny_t

    Great show, Tom, For once, you hit the nail on the head.

  • TJPhoto40

    I appreciate this serious examination of the potential and actual health risks associated with plastics. This is not a new concern, of course, and it’s deeply disturbing that our government allows thousands of chemicals to be used as if they’re innocent until proven guilty. I switched as much as possible to drinking glasses and containers made of glass, and have tried to avoid what I thought of as the most likely offenders. But this show’s guests, without being overly alarmist or shrill about it, remind us of how ubiquitous and worrisome plastic products are in our lives, and how difficult it is to shun plastics effectively without going to live in the forest again.

    For example, we buy fruits and vegetables that often require refrigeration. Most of us store them in individual plastic bags inside a refrigerator whose interior is mostly plastic. Our cars are mostly plastic on the interior. The best goal is probably for us to demand that plastics or plastic substitutes shift to ingredients that, as much as possible, are demonstrated to be less hazardous after thorough testing, which we don’t have now. I don’t want to live my life in a paranoid fashion, but I do worry that we’ve become encapsulated in a plastic bubble that will be hard to break out of entirely.

  • http://www.ecoevolution.org/ Ian G

    The subject matter was timely and received well deserved coverage, but Tom handled the interview poorly.

    Tom focused the majority of the discussion and questions about BPA (Bisphenol-A) plastic which has already known endocrine-disrupting effects. What Mariah Blake’s reporting revealed is the devastating news that nearly ALL PLASTIC is a risk for exposure to estrogenic chemicals. Because of Tom Ashbrook steered the panel into discussing Bisphenol-A almost exclusively, listeners could easily walk away thinking they need to watch out for BPA plastics only, which is not what the Mother Jones article showed was the proper scope of the threat.

    All plastics are now in question, not just those containing BPA.

    • Matt2525

      On Point’s style is very sophisticated. Only after years of exposure and rebellion will Tom address a certain crime of the establishment, but he’ll put it into a very narrow focus. Thus, the show maintains marginal credibility without blowing the lid off the whole scheme.

      • http://www.ecoevolution.org/ Ian G

        It’s one of Tom’s major flaws, he is constantly reframing the discussion (and even the questions of both guests AND callers) to steer the conversation into “acceptable” dialog, rather than let people speak and respond organically to each other.

  • http://www.americanchemistry.com/ American Chemistry
  • ExcellentNews

    Living is dangerous. Nature is toxic by nature. Anyone who applies the lens of science to the real world can easily see that. The only question is “how much”. There is a reason why mankind started using plastics as soon as they were pioneered. Yes, BPA and the many other additives used to impart good mechanical properties to polymers have probably some small harmful background effect, especially on people who might have particular receptor variants. However, you need to examine this in the context of the very real alternatives of food poisoning and exposure to contaminants from other materials. Just look at the quality of life of your own ancestors who lived “close to nature” (and the few nomads who still do) and you will realize how harsh that nature is, and how good are the fruit of technological progress. And if YOU want to contribute to further improvements, go get a degree in a real discipline like chemistry or physics, instead of parsing the pop culture magazines in Whole Foods.

  • KTSunshine

    I listen to Tom Ashbrook every chance I get and usually love his interviews. But I fully agree with TLee and jytdog that Tom really dropped the ball on this one. The show was completely one sided. You have a show that talks about plastics and food safety and don’t have ONE polymer scientist or ONE person representing the FDA? And all of the conspiracy theorists are only adding to the hysteria. The FDA is made up of people with families who work there (making half of what they probably could in industry) because truly they care about the safety of the food in this country. Their comprehensive study is PEER REVIEWED. If the studies are flawed as Ms. Blake, a layman (no offense), contends, they would be rejected by these peer experts and not published. And, by the way, people who work in the plastics industry also have kids. There are no evil chemists manically laughing in secret labs. They’re people trying to do the right thing and they’re basing their decisions on real data, not conjecture or fear mongering. And to say that we could do away with all plastics in packaging is naive. We could not feed the 317 million people in this country without the protection, safety and extended shelf life that plastic provides. I listen to NPR for its intelligent and fair discussions. Tom, please present both sides of this issue so my faith can be restored.

ONPOINT
TODAY
Aug 27, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, center, looks at them, prior to their talks after after posing for a photo in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. (AP)

Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader meet. We’ll look at Russia and the high voltage chess game over Ukraine. Plus, we look at potential US military strikes in Syria and Iraq.

Aug 27, 2014
The cast of the new ABC comedy, "Black-ish." (Courtesy ABC)

This week the Emmys celebrate the best in television. We’ll look at what’s ahead for the Fall TV season.

RECENT
SHOWS
Aug 26, 2014
Matthew Triska, 13, center, helps Alex Fester, 10, to build code using an iPad at a youth workshop at the Apple store on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in Stanford, Calif.  (AP)

Educational apps are all over these days. How are they working for the education of our children? Plus: why our kids need more sleep.

 
Aug 26, 2014
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, right, speaks with Ady Barkan of the Center for Popular Democracy as she arrives for a dinner during the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyo. Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014.  (AP)

Multi-millionaire Nick Hanauer says he and his fellow super-rich are killing the goose–the American middle class — that lays the golden eggs.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Poutine Whoppers? Why Burger King Is Bailing Out For Canada
Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014

Why is Burger King buying a Canadian coffee and doughnut chain? (We’ll give you a hint: tax rates).

More »
Comment
 
Why Facebook And Twitter Had Different Priorities This Week
Friday, Aug 22, 2014

There’s no hidden agenda to the difference between most people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds this week. Just a hidden type of emotional content and case use. Digiday’s John McDermott explains.

More »
Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: August 22, 2014
Friday, Aug 22, 2014

On mixed media messaging, Spotify serendipity and a view of Earth from the International Space Station.

More »
Comment