An extraordinary investigative report in the February issue of the magazine Fast Company tells the story of how the plastics industry has managed to prevent federal regulation of the chemical Bisphenol A by backing scientific studies that debunk concerns about cancer, infertility and other health problems.
Reporter David Case shows how scientific research firms offer their services as "product defense" consultants, with practices that date back to the days of Big Tobacco and Agent Orange.
Of the more than 100 independently funded experiments on BPA, about 90% have found evidence of adverse health effects at levels similar to human exposure. On the other hand, every single industry-funded study ever conducted -- 14 in all -- has found no such effects.
"The largest and most influential industry studies," Case writes on page 3 of the story, "have been conducted by Rochelle Tyl of the Research Triangle Institute, a private lab in North Carolina."
Tyl is listed on RTI's web site as a Distinguished Fellow of Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology, with more than 40 years of experience in developmental and reproductive biology and toxicology.
Case writes that Tyl's first BPA study in 2002, funded by the plastics industry, used a rat strain that has been shown to be insensitive to synthetic estrogens like BPA.
As of early 2007, of the 29 studies that have shown no harm due to BPA, 13 have used the CD Sprague-Dawley rat. Nonetheless, when the FDA declared BPA "safe" this fall, it relied almost exclusively on Tyl's work -- a shortcoming that the agency's science board publicly criticized in October.
Tyl told Case, "It doesn't matter who pays for my studies" and denied any industry influence over her work. "It offends the living bejesus out of me, that I'm going to alter a study design or a result."
The American Chemistry Council funded Tyl's recent follow-up experiment using mice. That study also found no adverse effects from low doses of BPA.
However, the study's details indicate that the mice were fed a type of animal chow that has been shown to mask the effects of estrogens like BPA. Moreover, according to Tyl's own data, the prostates in both her experimental and her control mice were enormous, suggesting that her study had, in fact, shown effects from BPA, or that there were significant flaws in her team's lab practices.
Thought the Food and Drug Administration has not taken a position against BPA, public pressure has caused major retailers like Toys "R" Us (which owns the baby-bottle bonanza Babies "R" Us) to pull BPA bottles from their shelves.
But as Case's article explains, BPA is in a lot more than baby bottles. It lines nearly every soda can and canned good on the market.