In the news: The Chemical Industry is the New Tobacco

Tyrone Hayes, professor of biology at UC Berkeley.

I’d like to bring to your attention two recent news articles on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) with a disturbing connection. They’re both great reads, so I’ll try not to spoil them for you.

Endocrine disruptors seem to be in the news every day. (So does reducing our intake of animal products- is this just because I am more conscious of it now?) The USDA released the results of a BPA study last month that led to the headline “Maybe That BPA In Your Canned Food Isn’t So Bad After All” (on NPR, no less, and it’s a terrible article so I won’t even bother to link to it). The flawed study used a species of rat known to be insensitive to estrogen, and on top of that had contaminated controls. You have to have an unexposed population to compare to or else the results are worthless!

Ok, enough rant. The fact I want to make you aware of is that the chemical industry is the new tobacco industry; they’re employing not only the same tactics but also the same people to preserve their economics interests, no matter what the science says. Sounds an awful lot like the history of lead to me.

Tyrone Hayes (above) is the biology professor at UC Berkeley known for exposing the herbicide atrazine as harmful to amphibians, and its producer Syngenta has done everything in their power to prevent his research from being published and discredit him. The New Yorker ran a focus piece on him a few weeks ago, and if you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. Get it here. 

“The P.R. team [of Syngenta] suggested that the company “purchase ‘Tyrone Hayes’ as a search word on the internet, so that any time someone searches for Tyrone’s material, the first thing they see is our material.” The proposal was later expanded to include the phrases “amphibian hayes,” “atrazine frogs,” and “frog feminization.” (Searching online for “Tyrone Hayes” now brings up an advertisement that says, “Tyrone Hayes Not Credible.”)”

The New Yorker article describes how many people, including his own students, thought Tyrone Hayes was paranoid about the manufacturer of atrazine targeting him and his work, but a recent class action lawsuit against Syngenta has released hundreds of internal memos including their planned tactics to discredit him.

In this video interview, Hayes described how he and his family were personally threatened by industry representatives.

“He whispered in my ear that he could have me lynched… and at one point he threatened my wife and my daughter with sexual violence” (5:50) This is how we treat scientists in America?

Today on Mother Jones I read about research that has identified many plastics besides polycarbonate as estrogenic, including Eastman’s Tritan copolyester, a BPA-free alternative.

These findings posed a direct threat to plastics and chemical makers, which fought back using tactics the tobacco makers had refined to an art form. By the late 1990s, when tobacco companies agreed to drop deceptive marketing practices under a settlement agreement with 46 states, many of the scientists and consultants on the industry’s payroll transitioned seamlessly into defending BPA.”

There it is, guys. The power that these corporations have worries me. Eastman sued CertiChem, the company that found Tritan and other plastics to be estrogenic, succeeding in almost wiping out the small company and barring them from ever discussing the estrogenicity of Tritan.

The results from CertiChem: “Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled—independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source—leached chemicals having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than did BPA-containing products.”

That paper was published in 2011, so I’m not sure how I missed it before.

“Even as the industry crafted defensive talking points, some companies began offering BPA-free alternatives. But they often didn’t bother testing them for other potentially toxic compounds or synthetic hormones. Nor did they have to: Under US law, chemicals are presumed safe until proven otherwise, and companies are rarely required to collect or disclose chemical-safety data.”

This stuff makes me so frustrated! It reminds me of Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life’s petition to ask Vitamix to bring back the stainless steel pitcher. Vitamix pitchers (and probably my food processor too) are made of Tritan, and I’ve been using my food processor more than ever now that I am not eating animals. Cashew creams are amazing! But seriously, these are even more reasons to reduce consumption of plastics.


One thought on “In the news: The Chemical Industry is the New Tobacco

  1. Thank you! I’m glad someone else feels the same. It really gets to you when you have kids, too. They are so much more vulnerable.

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