Biased Bits of Bisphenol A Afloat in the Media:Back to the Baby Bottles

The national media will not let up on the dangers of bisphenol A.

This from Let the Baby Have His Bottle? at

The controversy over BPA comes from the hundreds of "low dose" studies that have emerged in the last decade, which suggest that the chemical is more of a problem than we thought. Yet there's quite a bit of dissension in the scientific community over how to interpret all this research. In the past few years, there have been a few attempts to wade through the flood of new data. In 2007, 38 researchers who have studied the chemical extensively signed a consensus statement asserting, among other things, they were "confident" that commonly reported levels of BPA in humans were higher than those shown to have adverse effects in animals. Last year, the National Toxicology Program, a research division of the National Institute of Health, expressed "some concern"—the middle ranking on a five-point scale—about BPA's effects, at current exposure levels, on the brains and prostate glands of fetuses, infants, and children. (The program expressed "minimal" to "negligible" concern, however, on other developmental and reproductive issues.)
Nina Shen Rastogi, The Green Lantern, gets a lot of facts right and some, plain wrong. Let's clear these up.
  1. There isn't " a lot" of dissension among mainstream scientists. They pretty much interpret the "low dose" studies as faulty and insignificant for a variety of reasons. Their one major flaw - injecting BPA into mice - a mode of administration more dangerous than ingestion. No ill effects have been reported in studies using ingesting rather than injection.
  2. A "few attempts to wade through the flood of new data". Ms. Rastogi, who pens The Green Lantern column devoted to "illuminating answers to environmental questions" is not impressed by the many thorough reviews over the last decade. Although she mentions the European Food Safety Authority declared it safe after just such a review - she omits Australia, Japan, and the individual countries comprising the EFSA that have all separately come to the same conclusion. Nor does she tell readers that the EFSA, the European equivalent of the FDA and long known for its very strict precautionary stance, concluded it is far safer than they believed and raised the lifelong daily exposure threshold by a factor of five. A fact I've never come across in mainstream media accounts.
  3. The "38 researchers" who signed a statement declaring BPA dangerous? The Chapel Hill Consensus conference relied heavily on less than objective scientists like Frederick vom Saal, oftened cited as the country's foremost BPA authority but whose work mainstream scientists reject for its poor methodology among other concerns.
  4. The NTP's reporting of "some concern" over BPA was not a quantative assessment of risks demonstrated in scientific research, but rather, a qualitative integration of the research plus public opinion. In fact, the NTP stated there's no evidence of human harm.

Then there are the other facts The Green Lantern should have reported. Like the two recent large, long-term studies, one funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that found no ill effects after animals were fed (as opposed to injected with) BPA.

And then she forgot (or didn't know about) a critical new April 2009 study of infants in neonatal intensive care units that provided important evidence even premature infants readily rid their bodies of BPA.

Nor did she mention the recent survey of over 900 toxicologists by (an independent non-partisan organization). Among the findings:

Only 9% rated BPA as a "serious" health risk. More were concerned about the dangers of aflatoxin, a natural fungus in peanut butter.

Three out of four (75%) thought the media overplayed individual studies to the neglect of the whole body of research on any issue.

Over 90% faulted the media for not seeking a diverse array of opinions, not distinguishing the good from the bad research, and confusing correlation with causation.

About 80% believe the media overhypes chemical risks - including major news organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsweek. In a major slap to the mainstream media, they rate Wikipedia as more objective than the above media giants.

So I will not bother giving much space to SELF magazine's Cancer In A Can?, an October 2008 article that I just happened to persure last week. I will note, however, the opening paragraph's dramatic portrayal of a breast cancer survivor, an environmental lawyer, who blames her diagnosis on BPA. And then there are the photos of fetal mouse breast cells, like something right out of a medical text book. And the online version, invitations to send in your own hanky-panky playlist, a sexy sound track of sorts. Is that how we want to receive our health (mis)information?

Is anyone else troubled here?

Who cares? Why shouldn't I just let it rest?

Sure the truth matters. At some point we're going to have to deal with the fall-out from this faulty science. Look at the spectacle over mercury in vaccines. Has it gotten us any closer to the real triggers of autism? Has it reduced the numbers of children diagnosed with autism each year? No, instead we are dealing with an increasing number of unvaccinated children and rising cases of once-vanished diseases.

Not to mention the psychological toll of regular health scares.

And even little kids know about the down sides of crying wolf. One day, burned out from fear-mongering, we are not going to believe a true threat to our children's health.

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