by Susan Sharon
MPBN radio news story
Recent remarks by Gov. Paul LePage about what he perceives as a lack of science surrounding the chemical bisphenol A and its role as a hormone disruptor is once again making headlines around the country and generating a strong and critical response from environmental and health policy groups. Scientists are also pointing out that the governor’s comment shows he doesn’t understand basic science around hormones or what constitutes scientific consensus.
Used to harden plastic and line food and beverage containers, BPA has been designated as a priority chemical in Maine after a thorough scientific review, months of public hearings and no in-state opposition. Gov. Paul LePage was recently asked at a news conference about his position on BPA and whether he would support the Maine Board of Environmental Protection’s unanimous recommendation to the Legislature to begin phasing it out from certain children’s products such as baby bottles and sippy cups, something eight other states, Canada and the European Union have already done. No, the governor said, and here’s why.
“Until I see science that tells me that BPA is a problem–and I haven’t seen it–quite frankly the science that I’m looking at says there’s not been any science identified that there’s a problem,” LePage said. “The only thing that I’ve heard is if you take a plastic bottle, put it in the microwave and THEN heat it up it gives off a chemical that’s similar to estrogen. And, ah, so the worst case is some women might have little beards, but we don’t want to do that.”
Lisa Pohlmann, the executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, called LePage’s remark a “callous disregard for the health of women and children.” Sara Standiford of the Maine Women’s Lobby says her members are concerned about what they’re hearing. And Mike Beliveau of the Environmental Health Strategy Center says he’s shocked at the profound ignorance of the governor around the science of bisphenol A. The last time the governor came under this much criticism he was telling Maine’s NAACP to quote – “kiss his butt.”
“You know, Gov. LePage wouldn’t know sound science if it kissed him in the butt, frankly,” Beliveau says. “He seems to be ignorant of basic principles of science. He ignores the scientific recommendations of the state of Maine. He ignores the scientific recommendations of the U.S. government. He ignores the independent, peer-reviewed science that has been in the scientific journals.”
Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for LePage says the governor’s comment about BPA and bearded women was intended as a “casual joke” made to a group of reporters almost a week ago. Demeritt says the governor’s position has been lost in a comment which has been blown out of proportion.
“The governor believes that when you’re making policy we need a standard and the standard needs to be sound, consensus science,” Demeritt says. “The World Health Organization and the European Food Safety Authority, as early as this past fall, both those organizations have come out and said the science on BPA is not conclusive, doesn’t warrant further regulation.”
“It’s my scientific opinion that there is enough evidence that BPA does qualify under the law for designation as a priority chemical,” says Dr. Deborah Rice, a toxicologist at Maine’s Center for Disease Control and a recipient of the prestigious Heinz award for her research into neurotoxicology, the study of the interaction of chemicals within the brain and nervous system.
Here in Maine, Rice was charged with doing the scientific review of the effects of BPA. Studies have shown that BPA exposure in animals causes a decline in testicular testosterone, disrupts ovarian development, increases the weight of the prostate by 30 times and predisposes breast cells to cancer.
“In the last ten years or so there have been more than a hundred papers, working with animals documenting effects at much lower levels and in different kinds of systems and in different kinds of receptors,” Rice says. “So in my mind, it’s no longer a controversy whether bisphenol A in animal produces adverse effects at the same levels that humans are exposed to.”
Scientific research has linked BPA to cancer, sexual dysfunction and heart disease in humans. But it is its effect on developing fetuses, infants and young children that is of greatest concern. Rice is not aware of any studies that show women growing beards, and she says the governor appears to have confused the female hormone estrogen with the male androgen hormone.
Dr. Susan Shaw, director of the Maine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill has studied the impacts of toxic chemicals on marine life and people for 30 years. She says the governor’s comments sound like they came straight out of the talking points of the chemical industry which opposes regulation of BPA.
“I think that there’s a misconception–and they’re trading on this–that the science has to be overwhelming and perfect, and it never will be,” Shaw says. “But there’s a weight of evidence, there’s a body of peer-reviewed science NOW about BPA that creates consensus within the scientific community.”
A spokesman for the chemical industry did not return a telephone call to MPBN by airtime.