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Science for hire - Trial over plastic exposes disclosure deficit

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Science for hireBy 2012, Eastman Chemical seemed to be perfectly positioned when it came to producing plastic for drinking bottles. Concerns about a widely used chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) had become so great that Walmart stopped selling plastic baby bottles and children's sippy cups made with it and consumer groups were clamoring for regulators to ban it.

Medical societies were warning that BPA's similarity to estrogens could disrupt the human hormone system and pose health risks, especially to fetuses and newborns.

Eastman, a specialty-chemicals company headquartered in Kingsport, Tennessee, had been selling Tritan, its trademarked hard, clear plastic, as an alternative to BPA for five years. It told prospective customers that Tritan was free of BPA and any other chemical that mimicked human hormones like estrogens. To support the claim, the company pointed to "independent third-party testing," whose results were reported in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, which is published by Elsevier.

As more manufacturers and retailers abandoned BPA, some wanted to make absolutely sure that Eastman's safety claims for Tritan had been reviewed independently. The Austin, Texas, office of upscale grocer Whole Foods, for instance, asked Eastman if it funded "any of these labs" that determined Tritan had no estrogenic properties, according to an email from Eastman chemist Emmett O'Brien and disclosed in a lawsuit.

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