In late February, when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the nation's harsh new anti-gay bill into law, he claimed the measure had been "provoked by arrogant and careless western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality." What he failed to mention is that the legislation—which makes homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison in some cases—was itself largely due to Western interlopers, chief among them a radical American pastor named Scott Lively.
Lively, a 56-year-old Massachusetts native, specializes in stirring up anti-gay feeling around the globe. In Uganda, which he first visited in 2002, he has cultivated ties to influential politicians and religious leaders at the forefront of the nation's anti-gay crusade. Just before the first draft of Uganda's anti-gay bill began circulating in April 2009, Lively traveled to Kampala and gave lengthy presentations to members of Uganda's parliament and cabinet, which laid out the argument that the nation's president and lawmakers would later use to justify Uganda's draconian anti-gay crackdown—namely that Western agitators were trying to unravel Uganda's social fabric by spreading "the disease" of homosexuality to children. "They're looking for other people to be able to prey upon," Lively said, according to video footage. "When they see a child that's from a broken home it's like they have a flashing neon sign over their head."
Since the 1990s, a vast body of research has linked BPA and other chemicals found in plastics to serious health problems, ranging from cancer to infertility. But the industry—often using tactics pioneered by Big Tobacco as it sought to bury evidence about the health risks of smoking—has managed to shield these substances from federal regulation. How did Big Plastic bring regulators to heel? Read on.
1996: Zoologist Theo Colborn finds that synthetic hormones in plastics, pesticides, and other products short-circuit endocrine systems, leading to disease and reproductive problems.
1996: Congress requires the EPA to screen 80,000-plus chemicals for endocrine-disrupting effects and report back by 2000. The EPA convenes an advisory panel that includes industry scientists, some with Big Tobacco ties.
1997-98: Researchers Frederick vom Saal and Wade Welshons find BPA causes enlarged prostates and lowered sperm counts in mice exposed in utero—at levels 25 times lower than the EPA'S safety threshold.
1998:Tobacco companies agree to curtail their deceptive marketing. Many tobacco scientists and consultants go to work for the plastics industry.
1998: The Consumer Product Safety Commission strikes a voluntary deal with manufacturers to remove some phthalates—endocrine-disrupting chemicals used to soften plastics—from pacifiers and teethers.
1999:Consumer Reports finds BPA leaches from baby bottles when they're heated (PDF). Nevertheless, the FDA affirms BPA's safety, even for infants.
2003: The NIH's National Toxicology Program (NTP) hires Sciences International, a product defense firm with industry ties, to evaluate BPA.
2005: Vom Saal publishes a paper showing 90 percent of government-funded studies find very low doses of BPA are harmful, yet not a single industry-funded study does.
Oct. 2008: As attorneys general in three states call on baby bottle and formula makers to quit using BPA, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reveals that a draft FDA assessment finding it safe was penned partly by industry lobbyists. Meanwhile, an Eastman study finds that one of Tritan's ingredients is likely more estrogenic than BPA.
2009: At least 20 states weigh BPA bans.
March 2009: Researchers find the BPA-free plastic PET also leaches synthetic estrogen.
Sept. 2010: A California bill banning BPA in baby products is defeated. According to its sponsor, "highly paid lobbyists" argued that "food production plants in their districts would close even though those plants do not produce any baby products."
Late 2010: Initial results in an Eastman-commissioned study appear positive for estrogenic activity. Eastman's senior toxicologist calls it an "oh shit moment."
March 2011:A CertiChem study published by an NIH journal finds "almost all" plastic products tested are estrogenic. Eastman claims, falsely, that the EPA has rejected CertiChem's testing method. The American Chemistry Council and Society of the Plastics Industry pay a former tobacco scientist $15,000 to write a letter to the journal's editor refuting CertiChem's findings.
May 2011: The EPA's inspector general reports that the agency's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which was supposed to be implemented by 2000, has yet to develop "a management plan laying out the program's goals," let alone fully vet any chemicals.
Dec. 2011: Eastman launches a PR blitz to refute CertiChem's findings.
March 2012: A research review finds "substantial evidence" that low doses of endocrine disruptors "are associated with human diseases." It concludes that "fundamental changes" to the way we test and regulate chemicals are "needed to protect human health."
Update (3/3/14): After this story went to press, the US Food and Drug Administration published a paper finding that BPA was safe in low doses. However, due to laboratory contamination, all of the animals—including the control group—were exposed to this chemical. Academic scientists say this raises serious questions about the study's credibility. Stay tuned for more in-depth reporting on the FDA's most recent study.
Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green's home: He'd slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she'd howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette's sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.
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He pondered these findings as the center prepared for its anniversary celebration in October 2011. That evening, Green, a slight man with scruffy blond hair and pale-blue eyes, took the stage and set Juliette's sippy cups on the podium. He recounted their nightly standoffs. "When she wins…every time I worry about what are the health impacts of the chemicals leaching out of that sippy cup," he said, before listing some of the problems linked to those chemicals—cancer, diabetes, obesity. To help solve the riddle, he said, his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogenlike chemicals.
The center shipped Juliette's plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette's—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab's findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics. CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Itreported that "almost all" commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren't exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun's ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner's research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.
Gay Ugandans celebrate gay pride in Kampala, despite homosexuality being illegal in the East African country.
Earlier this week, when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni approved a harsh new bill making "aggravated homosexuality" a crime punishable by life in prison, he cited a recent report from the Ugandan Ministry of Health's Committee on Homosexuality, which concluded that same-sex attraction is mostly a learned impulse. "Since nurture is the main cause of homosexuality, then society can do something about it to discourage the trends," Museveni said. "That is why I have agreed to sign the bill."
This pronouncement creates a quandary for the United States. American officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have vehemently condemned Museveni's decision. Yet millions of US taxpayer dollars are flowing to the agency that the Ugandan leader used to justify the legislation, according to records from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gay rights activist argue that the Committee on Homosexuality report was engineered to ensure the bill's passage, and at least one committee member—a physician named Eugene Kinyanda—refused to sign his name to it because the process had "taken a very political" direction. "I will not be used to justify the passing of a bill which as a doctor I do not fully understand," he wrote in an email to a fellow committee member, which was reprinted on the blog Patheos.
Brushing aside protests from Western leaders and human rights organizations, on Monday Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the country's draconian anti-gay bill into law. The measure increases the penalty for homosexuality, which was already illegal, to life in prison in some cases. It also includes a raft of other harsh provisions, as Human Rights Watch explains:
The "attempt to commit homosexuality" incurs a penalty of seven years as does "aiding and abetting" homosexuality. A person who "keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality" also faces seven years' imprisonment. Because the law also criminalizes the "promotion" of homosexuality, there are far-reaching implications beyond the increase in punishments for same-sex sexual conduct…Public health promotion and prevention efforts targeting "at risk" groups might have to be curtailed, and health educators and healthcare providers could also face criminal sanction under the same provision.
During the signing ceremony at his official residence outside the capital, Kampala, Museveni blamed the rise of gay culture in Uganda on "arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism" and claimed that some were doing so for "mercenary reasons—to get money—in effect homosexual prostitutes."
Gay rights activists say the climate for gays in Uganda has already deteriorated drastically since the bill passed the Ugandan parliament in December. According to Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the nation's primary gay rights group, police are rounding up 30 to 40 suspected homosexuals each week. In some cases, simply being unmarried and spending time in the company of people of the same gender is enough to arouse police suspicion. Mugisha also says that the bill's passage has brought a surge in anti-gay vigilantism and that religious leaders in the suburbs surrounding Kampala have been calling for gays to be killed or burned over the public address systems. "The situation is extremely worrying," Mugisha says. "We are living in fear."
Maria Burnett, a senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, believes Uganda may see more anti-gay violence now that the bill is officially law. "When political leaders stir up hate, it can look like a tacit approval of this kind of mob violence," she says. Burnett also stresses that the measure's passage is part of a "broader pattern of clawing back basic human rights, such as freedom of association and freedom of expression, in Uganda."
The White House sounded a similar note in a statement late Monday morning: "As President Obama has said, this law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda, it reflects poorly on the country's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world."