If the consequences weren’t so serious, it would be entertaining to watch the chemical industry’s top lobbyists scramble to defend the signature toxic chemical of the new millennium, bisphenol-A (BPA). This is a chemical with some serious toxic muscle. It’s not just that BPA is a clear and insidious threat to human health. BPA has triggered a seismic change in the field of toxicology, providing overwhelming evidence that it is not just the dose, it is the timing of exposure – in this case a very tiny pre-natal exposure – that is the key to a bad outcome. Bye bye Paracelsus.
But why talk about that? So when Lisa Jackson put BPA on the agency’s most wanted list, the American Chemistry Council went into full scramble mode. The strategy: talk about what BPA isn’t. Sigh. So BPA is not persistent in the environment and does not bioaccumulate. Well thank God, because if a chemical as toxic as BPA were persistent and did build up in living things (such as people), we’d really be up the creek.
Let’s take a minute to remind the ACC gang that toxicity matters too. I’m sure that they remember the organophosphate pesticides (OPs). Derived from Nazi nerve gas chemistry, these super-toxic bug killers were the mainstay of American fruit and vegetable pest control until the children’s protection mandate of the Food Quality Protection Act slashed their use dramatically over the past decade. Like BPA, these pesticides didn’t persist or accumulate up the food chain. Instead, they were a menace to children’s health at very low doses when exposures occurred during critical periods of brain development. And as with BPA, children were exposed to OPs every day.
Thanks to pesticide reforms that targeted children’s health, not persistence or some other chemical characteristic, children today are protected from the highly toxic organophosphate insecticides.
Any chemical that threatens children in the womb, or other vulnerable groups, needs to be the top priority in reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act. Some will be persistent, others may bioaccumulate, still others will “just” be toxic. But in an era of true TSCA reform, all threats must be treated equally.