Page 8 of 9
The Los Angeles Times story was published the same day that one of the CERHR's panel meetings was taking place. Vom Saal says he was in the room when the director of the CERHR, Mike Shelby, walked in and dismissed the meeting.
"He said, 'Basically, the panel meeting's over,'" vom Saal remembers with a laugh. "Yeah, the Los Angeles Times article came out basically saying that this is a completely corrupt process."
Congress is starting to notice industry science-for-sale schemes. John Dingell, Democratic representative from Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, just launched an investigation into the Weinberg Group Inc., a Washington, D.C., firm hired by the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups to come up with scientific findings in their favor. Among the documents uncovered in the Congressional probe was a 2003 memo from the Weinberg Group to the chemical manufacturer DuPont that read, in part, "We will harness ... the scientific and intellectual capital of our company with one goal in mind — creating the outcome our client desires."
Also under scrutiny is the Food and Drug Administration. In March, a congressional inquiry into the FDA's conflicts of interest with the chemical industry found that the FDA's conclusion that bisphenol A is safe was based on only two studies — both funded by the chemical industry. The FDA's Stephen Mason admitted in a letter that the studies were sponsored by the Society of the Plastics Industry.
All of this vindication should be gratifying to vom Saal and his Endocrine Disruptors team, but there's no time to celebrate. Vom Saal is up to his ears in teaching classes and in his latest studies, which focus on the link between bisphenol A and obesity.
"We're working on the interaction of natural nutrients and fetal growth, and how these chemicals alter fetal growth and program fat cells to then accumulate abnormal amounts of fat," he explains.
On MU's campus, in the basement of Lefevre Hall, one dishwasher is constantly running. It's full of plastic baby bottles — all different brands. Some start leaching bisphenol A after the first 10 washes, vom Saal says. Others take more than 100, but at some point, they all start breaking down. Fill them with juice, and acids from the fruit strip the bisphenol A from the plastic faster. Fill them with milk or formula, which contain lipids, and the bisphenol A links to the fat molecules in the milk.
Vom Saal is also swamped with media requests.
Last month, he helped PBS film a "house audit" in which he went to a home with small children and pointed out all of the products containing bisphenol A. This was the second house audit he'd done, and it went considerably better than the first one, when the team found so many offending products that the mother burst into tears.
You won't find any plastic bottles in vom Saal's home. He rolls his eyes at the perceived safety of water filtered through Brita brand pitchers — charcoal-filtered water is great, but not when it empties into a polycarbonate jug.
"Stay away from food packaging in plastic. Put no plastic in any kind of heat, specifically in the microwave," he offers. "Virtually anyone we know who knows about this has really changed their lifestyle. And these are very simple things to do. It's not a crisis, not using canned products," he says of the fact that bisphenol A is also used in the lining of aluminum cans. "If you drink beer, drink it out of a glass bottle instead of out of a can."