Letters: Toxic chemicals

We need more research on toxic chemicals
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The Independent Online

It is encouraging to see The Independent supporting calls for better regulation to protect consumers from the potentially toxic chemicals that appear in everyday products ("Scandal of danger chemical in baby bottles", 31 March).

Back in November, the Green Party gave its full support to Breast Cancer UK's No More BPA campaign, warning the UK government about the continued use of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby products.

So it is incredibly disappointing that, despite the public pressure and despite growing concern over the potential impacts of BPA on human health, the UK Government and the European Commission seem to have no interest accelerating research into the substance or strengthening regulation. As a member of the Euro-Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, I have written to the Commission to challenge the continued use of BPA, and to call for an EU-wide ban based on the precautionary principle.

In response, the Commission says it is not considering a ban because of "insufficient evidence" of the harmful effects – but national governments could of course enforce a ban if they wanted to. Indeed, Canada is implementing a ban on the sale of BPA-containing baby bottles and, in the US, the six biggest manufacturers of baby bottles agreed to stop selling bottles containing BPA – while some states have also implemented bans. I understand that a number of European member states are looking closely at their national legislation too.

Given the mounting evidence of a link between some chemical products and the onset of diseases such as cancer, the lack of research, product labelling and effective legislation is alarming. I hope that this public campaign and the recent signals from other countries will prompt our own Government to take urgent action.

Caroline Lucas MEP

Green Party leader, London SE1

Constant references to "BPA bottles" mislead the public. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a substance used in the manufacture of polycarbonate. In this process, BPA is converted into the inert solid plastic and it is this that the bottles are made from.

The exposure of the public, including children, to BPA is, in the words of a Health Canada expert, "inconsequential". Hence impartial governmental authorities such as those in the UK and EU have concluded that the consumer is not at risk from Bisphenol-A.

Philip Law

Public and Industrial Affairs Director

British Plastics Federation, London EC2

A chance to end two-party regime

In the Chancellors' debate, George Osborne, with the Labservative domination of the last 80 years behind him, rather smugly opined to Vince Cable that the Liberal Democrats will not form the next government.

He is probably right, although whoever wins the election it is almost certain that at least 100 MPs will not be either Labour or Conservative, a prospect that would have been viewed with incredulity even 25 years ago. The two big parties may still be the main players, but they are not now the only players, and their dominance diminishes with every election, whichever of them wins it.

Therefore, given that the polls clearly show that the electorate wants neither a Labour nor a Tory administration, it might be that Mr Osborne should remember the 1993 general election in Canada. Then the Conservatives went from government, with 169 seats, to a minor opposition party with just two seats, thus proving that antecedents are not imperatives.

Peter Cook

Faversham, Kent

There is no doubt that there is widespread disillusionment with our political class (and for very good reason). The danger is that in this election even fewer will bother to vote.

There was a novel alternative in the student elections when I was at university. On the bottom of the voting slip there was another candidate, "Ron". This stood for "Re-Open Nominations". If Ron won there would be another election, with none of the previous candidates allowed to stand.

I wonder how many constituencies Ron would win if allowed to stand in the present election. It is obviously not in the interests of the political class to include Ron, and it is unlikely they will ever do so. The only democratic alternative using the present voting system is to spoil the election paper. If all disillusioned voters did this it might even shame the politicians into serious reform.

John Chitham

Worthing, West Sussex

Setting can limit pupils' horizons

E Jane Dickson assumes that streaming and setting in schools are necessarily a good thing ("There's no point in teachers blaming the parents", 27 March). For heaven's sake, has she not heard of self fulfilling prophecies? Has she not seen children grow and change over time?

I have seen children's eyes fill with tears when they realise they are in a low set. Can she not imagine what it would be like to be a quiet shy child who is always set with louder acting-out children, since their results were considered similar?

What possible advantage can it be to them to have only the experience of working at a lower or slower level, without learning from the faster and more able?

Our current GCSE system has banded entry levels for some subjects. This may mean that children in lower sets are taught the syllabus of, and then entered for, lower bands and cannot gain high grades. Your life chances can be defined by the set you are in.

A bad teacher will teach badly whether the class is set or not. A good teacher can work with a very wide range of interests and abilities, with advantages for all. Look at primary schools for evidence. And look at educational research about the negative impact of setting on learning.

Lucy Ruddy

Lewes, east Sussex

E Jane Dickson has no idea how severe is the problem of discipline in some schools.

She suggest detentions; the pupil may not attend. She asks for better playground supervision; some pupils misbehave even when under supervision. She suggests extra work; the work may not be done. Even suspensions may not be observed; the suspended pupil may present herself at school as usual. I have known this to happen.

Teachers currently have no effective sanctions against pupils who are determined to misbehave. If parents are not responsible for dealing with the dedicated disrupters, who is?

Francis Roads

London E18

You couldn't make it up

Thanks you for the best crop of April Fool articles ever.

The Hadron Collider on the Circle Line was obvious, the Obama letters equally so. I struggled with the "twin-track climate change" but the Miliband spoof quotient won me over. The pièce de résistance was the Cameron "big community" report – so plausible yet so risible! You will have to be careful that the idea is not adopted by any political party: it was so superficially credible, yet so deeply ludicrous.

John Griffin

Burntwood, Staffordshire

I am delighted to see that Cern has provided London Underground with a way of achieving continuous movement on the Circle Line in both directions at the same time. The potential of left and right meeting at Westminster would appear quite unprecedented and well worth a try.

I am however concerned about how they will control the (anticlockwise) beam at the complex junction at Edgware Road. There is a great risk that the stream of antimatter will veer off the Circle and end up liquidating Hammersmith.

Phil Wood

Westhoughton, Greater Manchester

I spotted your April Fool joke; it was on page 17, next to an article about Hadron Collider II being planned for the Circle Line, wasn't it?

It was the story about Sergeant Smellie being cleared of hitting Nicola Fisher at the G20 protest with the back of his hand and twice with his baton, and that he had a mere seven seconds to act amid fears for his safety. His action was seen by millions of TV news viewers nationally. How could you believe you could fool your readers into believing this preposterous story?

Brad Ingram

Saffron Walden, Essex

Less crime on the Tube

Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Sofyen Belamouadden. However, Mary Dejevsky (30 March) is quite wrong to say that Victoria station or the London Tube "seethes with barely suppressed lawlessness". Although one is too many, there are now just around 12 crimes per million Tube or bus journeys.

It is also wrong to say that there is a "conspicuous absence of anyone visibly and routinely in authority". Our stations are always staffed and will continue to be at all times. The number of police patrolling the Tube has risen from 450 to 700 officers, its highest ever. There are almost 2,000 police officers and police community support officers dedicated to the bus network in London.

Ms Dejevsky may not think CCTV has much merit, but all of London's 8,500 buses are fitted with recording CCTV and there are 12,000 cameras on the Tube network. Along with our staff and police, it plays a vital role in deterring crime.

Despite this terrible event, the fact is that crime is low and getting lower on the Tube and transport network.

Richard Parry

Director, London Underground

London SW1

A therapy that shows 'results'

Jeremy Laurance's article (The Big Question, 23 March) was unnecessarily kind to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).It is a therapy which lends itself to easy monitoring, and therefore it is popular with such bodies as Nice (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence). Other therapies may be much harder to monitor effectively, and though clients may say they feel much better after, say, person-centred counselling, "feeling better" is not quantifiable in the same way as the results from regular, questionnaire-based CBT.

My doubts about CBT were confirmed when a friend, who has suffered from depression and anxiety for many years, was referred by her GP for counselling. Only at the first appointment was she told that it would be CBT, rather than one of the more open-ended therapies.

After three sessions, a traumatic event happened to my friend, unrelated to her mental condition. Naturally enough, her anxiety level immediately rocketed. At her next CBT session, she explained this, but her therapist said that as her anxiety levels had increased, the therapy obviously wasn't working, and promptly terminated the therapy.

Connie Burnage

Person-Centred Counsellor, Appleby, Cumbria

No telling

Whenever Gordon Brown decides he is ready to seek a democratic mandate, he will not go to Buckingham Palace to "tell the Queen he is calling the general election" ("Rail union faces legal action over strike ballot", 1 April). Rather, he is likely to visit the Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament.

Martin Howard

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Ungrateful borrower

S Gilbert (Letters 27 March) complains about an organisation that lends him money. He wants to leave a credit card repayment until the last possible day, but left it too late because he didn't realise banks don't work weekends. He has chosen to return the card rather than learn from his mistake.

Rob Archer

Bexleyheath, Kent

A real writer

I sincerely hope that Kim Sengupta's reference to James Herriot as a "fictional British television character" ("The man who cares for goats", 1 April) was his own April Fool joke, given that Herriot was the pen name for a living, breathing vet, whom the public first became aware of through his semi-autobiographical novels and certainly not through television.

Harriet Drouin

Nettlebridge, Somerset

Not that fit

I conducted the original research in Boston for Nasa in the early Sixties on the effect of males wearing tight underwear, and so maintaining their testicles high against the body. The effects included significant falls in the number of spermatozoa produced, and hence a drop in fertility. Wearers of "fitware" beware ("Briefs encounter", 1 April).

Derek Robinson MD


Vin Franglais

John Lichfield reports on efforts to keep English words out of the French language (31 March). While recently at a vineyard in Provence, we inquired if they had un carton de vin, wanting a five-litre box of the local rosé. In reply were asked if we wanted un bag-in-box.

Christopher Martin

Newbury, Berkshire