Pawlenty Vetoes Phthalate Phase-Out
I was deeply disappointed to read today that Governor Tim Pawlenty has vetoed a bill that would phase out Bisphenol-A and certain phthalates. I sponsored a resolution in support of this bill earlier this year.
The Governor cites "lack of scientific evidence" as a reason for this veto, which is much more likely driven by chemical industry lobbying efforts.
Pawlenty is using the wrong standard, a philosophical template that treats chemicals as if they were persons accused of a crime. In this model, chemicals are "innocent" until proven "guilty" of causing harm to human health or the environment.
The problem is that the diseases caused by these chemicals are rarely directly attributable to a single, provable exposure. For instance, animal studies have shown that phthalates elevate risk of certain cancers. Due to obvious ethical constraints, similar studies in humans have not been conducted. It is logical to assume that phthalates have caused cancer in humans, but it is not possible to 'prove' that a specific person died due to phthalate exposure.
A more appropriate model for assessing the advisability of exposing people to these sorts of chemicals is the precautionary principle, which places the burden of proof on those who wish to expose people to these chemicals, not on those who wish to protect the public from them. Under the precautionary principle, the plastics industry would have to provide compelling evidence that phthalates are safe.
As we do with perscription drugs, appliances, vehicles and a host of different consumer products, we should be ensuring that phthalates are safe for human use. I do not believe that the available science can support this sort of assertion. Pawlenty's argument therefore falls apart completely: it's not the science that's the problem, it's his interpretation.