Is Bisphenol A Dangerous? Newsweek Says Yes. Experts Say No. BPA and More Bad Behavior

Been quite a week for that little chemical, bisphenol A, aka BPA, the suspected toxic substance in hard clear plastic, like baby bottles and sippy cups.
  • A science writer at a lofty news weekly says BPA is bad and that people have not been paying enough attention to the studies saying so.

  • An expert non-partisan, non-politically affiliated group of researchers say it's safe in a 50-page report after reviewing all the scientific evidence. And conclude the media has overplayed the bad BPA card.
Who can you trust?

Let's see. Sharon Begley, the science editor at Newsweek, glossed over the mountains of evidence suggesting no harm from BPA, studies that not only experts at the FDA but those from around the world, including Europe, Japan, and Australia, have reviewed and reviewed again, finding it more convincing and more rigorous than research showing it's dangerous.

But Begley dismisses this large, well-scrutinized body of evidence in one cheeky swoop:

Evidence on the other side is both stronger and more convincing. I can regale you until I'm out of space with studies showing that in monkeys, levels of BPA at the upper end of what the U.S. government calls safe harm synapses responsible for learning and memory; that people with the highest levels of BPA are most likely to have type 2 diabetes or heart disease; that BPA given to pregnant lab animals permanently alters the expression of genes responsible for uterine development and damages the reproductive system of their fetuses. More telling than individual studies is the weight and quality of the cumulative evidence. (When Studies Collide: Rethinking the evidence on BPA, from the magazine issue dated Jun 29, 2009).

Maybe she should take some of her own advice:

My point is not that science is always tentative and that scientists are fallible, though both are certainly true... but that almost anyone with an agenda can find research to support it.

Ah, yes, Ms. Begley, including writers for magazines who love a juicy headline.

Maybe you should consider the STATS experts who have reviewed all the evidence (Science Suppressed: How America became obsessed with BPA) - and have no agenda other than correcting faulty science in the public discourse - and reminded us that some of the studies showing harm were funded and conducted by environmentally-minded organizations that have a definitive point of view and agenda.

Or consider the weight U.S. government health organization that funded poor quality research according to STATS:

Missing in this debate is that it’s not just “industry groups” that think BPA shouldn’t be banned – or just industry-sponsored studies that say it’s safe. Scientists, regulators, and politicians in Europe, Australia, and Japan have all rejected the evidence that the chemical is harmful as methodologically flawed, badly conducted or irrelevant – with some warning that banning it could actually endanger the public. Now that the National Institutes of Health has acknowledged it funded a lot of poorly-designed research on BPA – the very research that activists touted as evidence that the chemical is deadly – it’s time to ask whether America has been spun by clever marketing rather than clever science.

Or consider the source for much of the BPA frenzy, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that not only won major awards for it's "Chemical Fall Out" series on BPA, but in over 40 articles featured only a small group of anti-BPA scientists and led the campaign to ban the chemical.

And please, please, please read at least the summary of this very detailed STATS report that in addition to scrutinizing the research on both sides of the issue, also chronicles how BPA become public enemy number one last year.

Get ready for more BPA brouhaha as the FDA will release yet another report sometime this summer.

For those of you interested in the actual science behind the battle: one of the major issues (flaws) regarding the interpretation of studies showing harm involves how research participants, that is, rats, received the chemical. Rats were injected with it. Studies in which rats ate it do not show harm. Researchers believe that injection is much more dangerous than ingestion. You can read more about the actual research in the STATS report.

FYI- After reviewing the evidence, the European Food Safety Authority (the European equivalent of the FDA) found BPA safer than previously thought and raised the level of BPA that's considered safe by a factor of five.

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