Unsuspecting Californians Footing Bill for NRDC Scare Campaign

Posted by Nick Kump at Jul 12, 2011 04:10 PM |
Henry Miller, founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology, rightly points out the folly of listing ubiquitous chemical BPA under the California's Proposition 65 toxic substance provisions. Such junk science hurts, not helps, consumers and taxpayers, as illustrated by the Alar apple scare in 1989.

Fear Mongering, Junk Science, and NRDC

by Henry Miller on July 12, 2011 12:18pm 


The American apple industry plunged into utter disarray in 1989 after a 60 Minutes segment alleged cancer risks from Alar, a chemical used to synchronize the ripening of fruit on apple trees.  Consumers were confused — and in some cases terrified. One mother sent the state police to stop her daughter’s school bus so that an apple could be removed from the child’s lunchbox.

Thousands of apple growers suffered substantial losses, some went bankrupt, and the federal government spent almost $10 million to support struggling apple growers.  The scare was eventually exposed as a fraud.  The source of that chaos, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is known for that sort of alarmist junk science.

During the 1980s, I had to endure the prattling of NRDC’s research director, Karim Ahmed, while we were members of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee of the NIH. Ahmed argued consistently against the research applications of the newest, most precise and predictable techniques of genetic engineering, which have revolutionized medicine and agriculture.  Not surprisingly, not one of his warnings about apocalypse has come to pass.

Today, the NRDC continues its legacy of costly and specious scare campaigns — this time at the expense of unsuspecting Californians who are footing the bill for the group’s latest cause. This campaign also exposes how flaws in the state’s Proposition 65 hazardous substance process leave it vulnerable to manipulation by unscrupulous special interest groups like the NRDC.

The NRDC’s latest target is the plastics additive bisphenol-A (BPA), a ubiquitous industrial chemical that for more than 50 years has been an important raw material in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics. A variety of consumer products use polycarbonate plastics, including beverage containers, infant feeding bottles, plastic dinnerware and plastic storage containers.  BPA is also used in the lining of cans of food to prevent spoilage that can lead to bacterial contamination and the risk of botulism.

In July 2009, the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee (DARTIC), which is part of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, rendered its judgment on whether BPA should be listed under the state’s Proposition 65 toxic substance provisions.  These independent science and health experts decided unanimously that BPA did not meet the threshold for listing under Proposition 65.

Nevertheless, over the past two years the state has been forced to pursue a costly and time-consuming review of BPA thanks to a petition filed by NRDC on the very same day in 2009 that DARTIC decided there was no evidence to support a Proposition 65 listing. Citing a 2008 National Toxicology Report that expressed “negligible concern” over possible reproductive effects from consumer exposure to BPA, the NRDC petition demanded an unprecedented listing of BPA under Proposition 65 using an obscure “authoritative body” provision in state law.  DARTIC is scheduled to meet on July 12 make yet another pronouncement on BPA.

Fueled by tax-exempt contributions from left-wing foundations, NRDC has forced the deficit-ridden state to squander scarce resources on a superfluous study because a special interest group wants a do-over on a settled regulatory matter. Not only did the state’s top panel of independent experts find no particular risk in BPA, but regulatory authorities around the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have declared that BPA is safe as used and that it has not been shown to cause health problems in adults, children or unborn babies.

In spite of the mountain of evidence showing BPA’s benign safety profile and the judgment of California’s leading health experts, the NRDC continues its campaign against this useful compound at the expense of California taxpayers.  A successful effort by the NRCD to include BPA under Proposition 65 would transform the unscientific and unnecessary to the chaotic.  We would start to see Proposition 65 warnings on the thousands of consumer products, including automobile and aircraft parts, beer cans, plastic bath and kitchen appliances, cell phones, cameras, flat screen television sets, hand held computing devices, that use BPA to improve their safety and performance.  Such over-warning would be a threat to public health because “Prop 65 Fatigue” among Californians already discounts the effects of the warnings and leads to indifference toward genuinely hazardous materials.

It’s clear that for its own selfish purposes, NRDC wishes to turn BPA into a 21st century version of the Alar debacle, and the organization seems content to do so on the backs of California taxpayers by forcing needless and expensive reviews through administrative legerdemain.  Clearly, the NRDC apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Henry Miller, a physician, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.  He was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology.


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