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The regulation of chemicals has been an issue of growing importance, as new concerns over the effects of chemicals found in everyday products emerge, a greater emphasis has been placed by governments and consumers on how certain chemicals affect the human body. One chemical that has become a chemical of concern for some environmental groups is Bisphenol A, or BPA.
Chemical BPA is a chemical used in plastics for many consumer products. Amongst other uses, BPA most commonly used in hardened plastics and as part of the safety liner for food and beverage cans.
In a recent piece from the Business and Media Institute Julia Seymour writes about the concerted efforts of the media to brand chemicals like BPA as “toxic” while pushing for regulatory bans on the use of BPA. Seymour argues that these articles and stories do not fit the results that many scientists have found when examining the health effects of BPA.
Fear of chemicals and “toxins” is rampant among the so-called “environmental” left. Unfortunately, that phobia infects national media coverage as well. For more than a decade, the left has been on the attack against BPA, a chemical that is commonly found in plastics and other products.
Anti-chemical groups such as the Breast Cancer Fund and some scientists have crusaded against BPA (known formally as bisphenol A), connecting it to cancer and reproductive problems and claiming that it is “a threat to human health,” despite government agencies that have declared it “harmless” even in baby bottles. Much of the national media have bought in spreading fear of the chemical in ordinary canned goods, on cash register receipts, in dental sealants and more.
The Food and Drug Administration has a deadline of March 31 to respond to a petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council—an environmental group—that seeks to ban BPA. NRDC argues that the FDA should ban BPA on the basis that it causes harm to humans. In making these contentions, they cite animal studies showing potentially negative consequences of the chemical.
Seymour contends that the reports commenting on the negative effects of BPA are receiving more attention from the press, while studies refuting these claims are almost universally ignored.
Meanwhile, the media have exaggerated the threat of BPA for years. On the Feb. 25, 2010, CBS “Early Show” broadcast, Katie Lee crossed the line from hype into outright falsehood when she said of BPA: “And that’s been shown to cause liver disease, heart failure, all sorts of things.” If that were true, certainly regulatory agencies like the FDA, WHO and others would have already banned it (they haven’t). Reputable studies done by government agencies have failed to find proof that BPA is dangerous to people. One of those studies: Teeguarden et al., found that even when people consume very high levels of BPA the amount of BPA found in the bloodstream is much lower than levels “causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA.”
Yet, news reports regularly warn people to avoid BPA by “using a glass water bottle or metal,” advising them to “go fresh” or “go frozen” and use glass containers for storage instead of Tupperware. Generally the additional time and monetary expense, or inconvenience of those changes is ignored.
The Business & Media Institute analyzed ABC, CBS and NBC news reports as well as The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal that discussed BPA from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2011. BMI excluded casual mentions of products that happened to have a BPA-free label, because the stories were not actually about the chemical.
Currently, several states and countries, including Canada, Japan, Denmark and France have banned the use of BPA for several products, including baby bottles. The FDA has examined several studies on both sides of the debate, and while having “some concern” about the chemical’s safety, the FDA has been unwilling to declare BPA unsafe.
Opponents of BPA bans have argued that the studies questioning the health effects of BPA are flawed based on small sample size and poor methodology. One of the key criticisms of the studies on the health risks of BPA is that many of the results found in these studies have yet to be repeated, leaving some of their conclusions open to criticism. They point out that all major studies, including those conducted by US government agencies, have found it to be essentially safe and most studies showing harm exist only in animals, used dose levels that humans would never encounter.
Actually BPA has been studied extensively, but studies that have found no harm from BPA have often been ignored or distorted by the media. One of these studies was a “huge” and “scientifically rigorous” study called Ryan et al. in 2009. Richard Sharpe, a leading endocrinologist, of the Queen’s Medical Research Institute (UK) wrote in The Toxicological Sciences journal that the Ryan et al. study “throws cold water” on the BPA controversy “by showing complete absence of effect of a range of bisphenol A exposures …” According to Sharpe, this study found no estrogenic effects of ingested BPA even when the doses were 4,000 times more than maximum human exposures.
Many network and newspaper stories have cited BPA’s estrogenic effects claiming they could be linked to early puberty, behavior problems in young children and reproductive problems in adult men. Because BPA is ingested by humans and metabolized and excreted quickly, that could only happen if active BPA was somehow migrating to the bloodstream.
The 2011 Teeguarden et al. study found little evidence of that. Justin Teeguarden was quoted in Forbes column by Trevor Butterworth saying, “In a nutshell, we can now say for the adult human population exposed to even very high dietary levels, blood concentrations of the bioactive form of BPA through the day are below our ability to detect them, and orders of magnitude lower than those causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA.” The study was funded by the EPA, and according to Butterworth “the analytical work was duplicated by two other government laboratories to ensure extra rigor.”
Seymour concludes that the media has been strongly on the anti-BPA bandwagon for years is unlikely to stop promoting material criticizing BPA, even in the presence of new evidence to the contrary.
Seymour’s article, “Ignoring Science, 97% of Stories Hype BPA as Health Threat” can be found online at: http://www.mrc.org/articles/ignoring-science-97-stories-hype-bpa-health-threat