When Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) was told that the future was “plastics” he was clearly to busy chasing after Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) to ask, “OK, but at what cost.”

Safer Plastic Alternative (BPS) Not Much Safer Says Study
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Bisphenol S (BPS), the alternative and replacement of bisphenol A (BPA) looking just as bad

As we covered a few weeks ago, we’ve worked ourselves into a new geological epoch largely owing to nuclear testing and plastic. While I understand most things that I enjoy cause cancer at some level, plastic seems to be one of those things that we just can’t get right. Whether by its design that seems to menace sea life if you don’t cut it up when you’re done with that six pack, or the cancer risk it poses, plastic just doesn’t seem to be something that we can get right.

The known endocrine disruptor BPA,  which was largely replaced in the western world with BPS in order to harden plastics, doesn’t seem to be the best of choices after all. Decades of studies have revealed an ugly truth, plastic sucks if you don’t want to increase your risk of prostate or breast cancer or enjoy the normal rate of embryonic development in your soon to be child.

A new University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) study led by reproductive endocrinologist Nancy Wayne suggests that despite mandated “BPA free” we haven’t really done ourselves any favors.

“Our findings are frightening and important,” says Wayne. “Consider it the aquatic version of the canary in the coal mine.”

Her study involving zebrafish shows that BPS as an alternative to BPA is lovely if you don’t mind its effect on brain cells and genes that control reproduction.

“Our research showed that low levels of BPS had a similar impact on the embryo as BPA,” Wayne told CNN. “In the presence of either BPA or BPS, embryonic development was accelerated. Additionally, BPA caused premature birth.”

Both BPS and BPA affect estrogen according to Wayne and a host of other studies that support her work (or vice versa) but they don’t stop there. Neither is a huge fan of thyroid hormones either.

“Because of thyroid hormone’s important influence on brain development during gestation,” said Wayne, “our work holds important implications for general embryonic and fetal development, including in humans.”

Beyond the layer of plastics we’ve essentially created on the sea floor, we also experiment on zebrafish.

Her work joins others’ BPS studies

We’re not talking about huge amounts of either BPA or BPS, I’m not saying to ignore your toddler when they are chewing on Tupperware’ I’m saying that a Texas study from 2013 suggests that BPS at just one part per trillion affects normal cell dynamics and can even cause cell death. This study also involved zebrafish.

Switching to rats, another study found BPS to cause heart arrhythmia. The author of that study, Hong-Sheng Wang wrote, “Our findings call into question the safety of BPA-free products containing BPS.”

Essentially, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Never mind that it’s not necessarily you but our corporations don’t much seem to mind too much. It’s not that they are giving us a pill that guarantees cancer or birth defects just that they always going to look for that cost-effective “regrettable substitution.”

I’m not leading a charge against corporate America or multinational companies, I’m simply pointing out that I’ve heard people say something like, “I’m staying at home and doing some canning this weekend, or ‘I’m making a bunch of currant jelly.” I’ve not once heard my neighbor say, “I’m staying in and making plastic on Sunday.”

The American Chemical Council (ACC), which represents BPA manufacturers, takes issue you with Dr. Wayne in a manner expected from a group of lobbyists. “Many government bodies around the world have evaluated the scientific evidence on BPA and have clearly stated that BPA is safe for use,” the ACC said in a statement provided to CNN. “For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) responded recently to the question, ‘Is BPA safe?’ with one unambiguous word: ‘Yes.’ In comparison, the results of this new study on zebrafish provide little or no meaningful information to assess the safety of BPA.”

And therein lies the problem.

This is all a moot point if you wear gloves when handling plastics, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. BPS is not going to outright kill you, it’s not yellow cake uranium and won’t be part of any “dirty bomb” that is hopefully never constructed. It’s just another one of those myths……like climate change.