Science Suppressed: How America became obsessed with BPA
Trevor Butterworth, June 15, 2009
An in-depth examination of the science, risk assessment, and media coverage of the most controversial chemical since alar, drawing on interviews with the lead authors of two major risk assessments, and focusing on the accuracy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's award-winning series, "Chemical Fallout," and the newspaper's campaign to have the chemical banned.
A handful of scientists and environmental activist groups claim that bisphenol A is the biological equivalent of global warming, and its presence in plastic bottles and can linings is endangering “millions of babies.” Their message – and their accusation that the Food and Drug Administration has been swayed by industry-sponsored studies and has ignored vital scientific evidence – has led Congress to ask the agency to re-examine the safety of the chemical. A decision is expected by the end of the summer.
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.
The following investigation is long, approximately 27,000 words. It can be downloaded as one pdf (577k)
2. The route of the controversy: Eat or inject?
3. Why was the route of exposure to BPA ignored?
4. What if BPA were tea?
5. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “Chemical Fallout” Crusade
6. What the Journal Sentinel didn't report
7. How the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sourced its reporting.
8. The newspaper's $4,450 test
9. “Their decision was absurd”
10. New research and a missing piece of the puzzle
11. Cherry picking and over-interpretation
12. The NTP draft report
13. The Oakes Award in Environmental Reporting
STATS responds to false claims made by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
STATS responds to questions from the Journal Sentinel about its funding and organization.
Errata (June 16)
STATS was contacted by Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Kissinger on June 15 with the complaint that the claim STATS contacted reporters at the paper was false because she has no record of being contacted. This is true with respect to Kissinger; we regret the implication, and the article has been corrected to note this. STATS contacted Kissinger's co-author, reporter Susanne Rust twice by email, and left a phone message once. We also emailed deputy managing editor for projects Mark Katches twice. Katches oversaw the Journal Sentinel Watchdog's report. We chose to contact Rust over Kissinger because the paper made note of Rust's scientific background as being indispensable to conducting its reporting on BPA, and our questions were of a highly technical nature. Neither she nor Katches responded.
Neither STATS.org nor the author received any payment from any industry or other source
associated with the manufacture, use, or distribution of bisphenol A.