November 2 2012

BPA is Safe...Say Scientists for the Billionth Time; Media Ignores

Julie Gunlock

Look, folks get it. The mainstream media simply chooses to ignore certain stories (read: Benghazi). It's a reality and, in general, I don't spend too much time worrying about it. But when it comes to my health, my children's health and my bottom line, I tend to get a little testy that the mainstream media is selecting to ignore certain very important health-related stories.

What's worse, as Jon Entine writes over on Forbes, is that it's now common in science writing to promote research that supports a pre-determined perspective while ignoring research that provides evidence to the contrary. Even more disturbing, journalists are now using research that finds a certain chemicals to be safe to argue the exact opposite--that they're dangerous. Entine explains:

That tendency was in sharp display recently after the publication of a study on Bisphenol A by University of California structural biologist Michael Baker in the online journal PLOS ONE. The chemical—a ubiquitous additive found in common plastic products and used as an ingredient in epoxy liners in cans that prevent spoilage and botulism—has been in the crosshairs of a small but determined group of university researchers, activist NGOs and journalists.

...

As often happens when a new study on BPA or “endocrine disruption” is published, a chorus of what seems like coordinated reactions materializes on the web. Within hours of the release of the Baker study, cyberspace exploded. The University of California-San Diego Health System’s news release, breathlessly titled, “BPA’s Real Threat May Be After It Has Metabolized,” was picked up verbatim by thousands of websites. It sparked uncritical stories by Chemical & Engineering News, Yahoo!, numerous other reputable news outlets and hundreds of speculative pieces by chemical-fearing NGOs with headlines ranging from “BPA is Bad to the Bone, Now We Know Why,” to “BPA Can be passed from moms to kids at birth” and “New studies add fuel to concerns over BPA.

These headlines that Entine describes would all be terribly scary, if any of those headlines were true. But they're not.

The irony is that the Baker study, when analyzed, does not support that view. Rather, it provides additional confirmation of the unlikelihood that BPA or many other so-called “endocrine disrupting” chemicals pose serious health threats.

The bizarre journalistic reaction to the Baker study underscores a distressing turn in “science reporting”—a disconnection between what agenda-seeking NGOs and their partners in the popular media report versus what the empirical evidence suggests. BPA antagonists range from chemophobic “natural” activist groups (Healthy Children Healthy World, Joseph Mercola) and advocacy media organizations (Mother Jones, Grist) to popular environmental organizations (Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council). They share a worldview with some high-profile journalists—most notoriously the columnist Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. Kristof has made “endocrine disrupting” chemicals one of his signature issues—much to the embarrassment of top-flight science journalists. This loose but very real coalition also includes reporters at many otherwise reputable news organizations who are not necessarily locked into a view about BPA or chemicals in general but, based on their reporting, appear to have only a superficial understanding of scientific risk.

So what does this mean for the average consumer?  What does this mean for the average mom on a budget?

It means, she will be terrified when she hears some reporter say plastic baby bottles are filled with dangerous chemicals that could harm her child. It means she'll be scared witless when she reads a piece in a magazine about how the plastic containers she uses to store that leftover chili she made last night might actually be poisoning her and her family. It means she'll run out and search the store aisles for those expensive BPA-free and "chemical-free" storage containers, baby bottles, children's sippy cups, toys, water bottles, etc. It means she'll have less to spend on food (already at record-high prices), fuel (oh yeah, another high priced item), and on her child's education (oops, there's another budget breaker).

Luckily, I know these so called "reporters" don't actually know how to read. If they did, they'd spend a little time looking over the Baker research which reaffirms the safety of BPA. So safe in fact, that the notorious scardy-cats in the Canadian Government reaffirmed its prior scientific finding that found BPA poses no serious threat.

If you want to have a little extra change in your pocket, check out Jon Entine's fantastic reporting on this subject here and breath a sigh of relief.

Now, I'm off to purchase some BPA-filled baby bottles!

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