The cost of inaction? Babies exposed to toxins
Sometimes you wonder whether you’re living in a parallel universe.
Like that South Park episode where Cartman is nice all the time, or in Seinfeld when Elaine meets Bizarro Jerry.
Or when the Federal Health Minister – who’s also the mother of a small child – won’t ban a toxic chemical that’s making babies sick.
I had this crazy notion that Nicola Roxon was supposed to be responsible for public health; that maybe she’d be concerned as the mother of a four-year-old daughter.
But when new evidence emerged this week showing BPA (bisphenol-A) in food and drink containers – particularly baby bottles – contributes to breast cancer, sex hormone imbalances, heart disease, diabetes and problems in babies, Ms. Roxon played a game of public health handball.
First, she said it was the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s responsibility.
No, said the TGA, it’s an issue for the Federal Health Department.
The Department handballed it to Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
The problem is, FSANZ has no regulatory authority over baby bottles.
You’d think Nicola Roxon would know all this, considering the same thing happened 12 months ago when the United Firefighters Union raised the issue.
In its response to the union, the boss of FSANZ wrote, “the matter falls within the portfolio responsibility of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health, the Hon Jan McLucas, but she has asked me to reply on her behalf”.
Nice handball, Jan.
The reply itself contains the if-it-wasn’t-so-serious-it-would-be-funny statement that more chemicals leached from baby bottles “when they were cleaned under exaggerated conditions including the use of boiling water”.
The use of boiling water is recommended as the ONLY way to properly clean baby bottles.
The government’s response follows the same pattern every time there’s a threat to public health.
Deny, deny, deny until incontrovertible evidence emerges, usually in the form of millions of people dying prematurely.
In the first century AD, Greeks and Romans observed that slaves involved in the weaving of asbestos cloth were afflicted with a sickness of the lungs. It took until 1991 for Australia to ban asbestos-containing material.
A study in 1938 suggested a “negative correlation between smoking and lifespan”, but warnings were not put on packets until the 1970s.
The danger signs about BPA have been around just as long: In the 1930s, experiments on rats found the first evidence of “estrogenicity of bisphenol-A”.
This week, Breast Cancer UK urged the British Government to ban the chemical, saying there is now “clear and compelling scientific evidence that links even low level exposure to increased risk of breast cancer and other chronic conditions”.
The Canadian government has gone ahead with a ban, while US baby bottle manufacturers are removing BPA from their products.
The World Health Organisation is investigating as a matter of urgency.
Of course, this has prompted a backlash from the chemical industry, which late last year began a US$10m PR blitz attacking or discrediting those who criticise the use of the monomer.
The Society of the Plastics Industry uses the same lobby group as Big Tobacco.
You can read the full investigative report here.
Until BPA is banned and replaced with a “safe” chemical, consumer groups recommend that you avoid canned food and plastic bottles.
(And eat and drink what, exactly…?)
They say you shouldn’t put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher.
Oh – and you’re not supposed to let your water bottle heat up in the car or that, too, will leach nasty chemicals.
(There are some terrific metal bottles available, like the kids’ ones on www.cheeki.net.au, but others are lined with BPA.)
Here’s a better idea: Why doesn’t Australia’s Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association replace BPA with another chemical?
After all, the industry turns over more than 32 billion dollars a year. Perhaps it could use the money set aside for political donations?
In the meantime, Australia will become a dumping ground for toxic bottles, as companies like Toys-R-Us and Walmart in the US remove them from the shelves.
Isn’t it odd, this parallel universe, where whales matter more than babies, health ministers care not for our health, and lobby groups determine what poisons we put into our mouths?
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