How America became obsessed with BPA
What the Journal Sentinel didn't report (cont'd)
In a contrast to the European Union’s risk assessment, Canada’s risk assessment was cited at least 18 times and given, in addition, one entire article. Unlike the European Union, Canada appeared to decide that BPA was dangerous, and therefore supported the Journal Sentinel’s reporting and editorial line; as the paper declared on May 19, 2008:, “Canada gets it.”
“Earlier this year, Canada declared BPA to be toxic and is moving to ban it from use in baby bottles.” (Dec 16, 2008)
“Canada has declared BPA to be toxic and is moving to ban it in baby bottles, the lining of infant formula containers and all children's tableware.” (Dec 4, 2008)
“In addition to Congress, 13 states have proposed bans on BPA. Wisconsin is not one of them. But State Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) said Monday that she is preparing legislation to ban BPA from children's products in Wisconsin. Lassa, chairman of the state Senate's Committee on Economic Development, said she became concerned about the chemical last spring after learning that Canada was banning the chemical in baby bottles and children's products. ‘It's scary stuff,’ said Lassa, who has children ages 4 and 17 months.” (Nov 18, 2008)
“Canada has declared BPA a toxin and is moving to ban it from baby bottles, infant formula and other children's products…. In April, after Canada's announcement of a ban, several corporations said they would stop producing and selling certain products made with BPA.” (Nov 16, 2008)
“Canadian health officials have been far quicker to address concerns about BPA than their American counterparts. Canada is set ban the chemical in plastic baby bottles and reduce exposure in canned infant formula.” (Nov 9, 2008)
“Canada announced on Oct. 17 that it considers bisphenol A to be toxic and will move to ban it in baby bottles.” (Nov 1, 2008)
“Earlier this month, Canada declared bisphenol A to be toxic and moved to ban its use, import and advertising in baby bottles and other products for children. Lunder said Canada's move raises serious questions about how well the FDA is protecting the American public. The FDA and Canada's health regulatory agency considered the same body of evidence and came to vastly different conclusions, Lunder said.” (Oct 30, 2008)
“U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who serves on the committee that oversees the FDA, sent a letter to Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach on Thursday citing the Journal Sentinel reports, and asking for the agency to follow Canada's lead and declare the chemical to be toxic and ban it from use in children's products. Canada on Saturday became the first country to declare the chemical a toxin.” (Oct 24, 2008)
“David Michaels, a professor of occupational and environmental health at George Washington University and who was not an author of the review, said the regulatory process clearly is flawed. ‘The discord between the National Toxicology Program, Health Canada and the FDA spotlights the limitation of the FDA's approach,’” Michaels said. (Oct 24, 2008)
“Last week, the government of Canada declared that bisphenol A is a toxin and is banning its use in baby bottles and other products used by children.” (Oct 23, 2008)
“Oct. 18: Canada declares bisphenol A toxic and announces a move to ban the sale, import and advertising of baby bottles and other children's products containing the chemical.” (Oct 23, 2008)
“Canadian health officials announced Saturday that bisphenol A is toxic and said they will ban baby bottles made with the chemical. The move, a first by any country, is giving fuel to those who want the chemical, found in plastic baby bottles and in the linings of cans, declared dangerous in the United States and elsewhere. Canadian regulators will begin writing rules prohibiting the sale, import and advertising of the chemical in baby products. Those bans likely will begin in 2009, according to Health Canada, the federal health agency. Canada's action is directed only at products for young children. The health officials found no cause for concern in older children or adults.” (October 19, 2008 – entire article is about the ban.)
“For inspiration, it needs to look no further than Canada, which recently declared bisphenol A a dangerous substance and banned the sale, import and advertising of baby bottles made with it.” (June 16, 2008)
“Canada gets it. So do an increasing number of retailers in the United States, including the biggest, Wal-Mart. Now, the U.S. government must take action to ban bisphenol A from all children's products…” (May 19, 2008)
“Canada said in April it would classify bisphenol A as a toxin, which likely will lead to its ban there by June.” (May 19, 2008)
“In the last couple of weeks, the U.S. and Canada have called for concern regarding the plastic chemical. The U.S. National Toxicology Program said the chemical posed some concern for fetuses, infants and children, and the Canadian government is considering a ban on all baby products containing bisphenol A.” (May 1, 2008)
“Canada announced April 18 that it will classify bisphenol A as a toxin and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, will ban the use of the chemical by June.” (Apr 30, 2008)
“Canada on Friday became the first country to declare bisphenol A, a chemical used in hundreds of common household products, a toxin. It immediately declared a ban on the sale, import and advertising of baby bottles made with the chemical.” (Apr 19, 2008)
“John Baird, Canada's minister of the environment, called the decision the most important in decades on a single chemical. ‘This shows the world that we are serious about protecting human health,’ Baird said. Chemical makers maintain that bisphenol A is safe. Canada's announcement provides reassurance to parents concerned about the chemical, Steve Hentges, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, said in a news conference Friday.” (Apr. 19, 2008)
This sounds quite alarming, especially if one goes back to the October 30 comment by Sonya Lunder, paraphrased by the Journal Sentinel as “The FDA and Canada's health regulatory agency considered the same body of evidence and came to vastly different conclusions.”
But is this what really happened?
Lunder belongs to an Environmental Working Group, an activist organization with a long track record of exaggerating chemical risks (a separate survey of members of the Society of Toxicology by STATS and George Mason University’s Center for Health and Risk Communication found that 79 percent of those toxicologists who were familiar with the Environmental Working Group said the organization overstated the risks from chemicals.). As we shall see later, the Journal Sentinel often relied on environmental activists to explain what the science meant at crucial narrative junctures. The problem here is that Health Canada did not come to a vastly different conclusion about the evidence – at least not according to its official position:
“The current research tells us the general public need not be concerned. In general, most Canadians are exposed to very low levels of bisphenol A, therefore, it does not pose a health risk.
Our focus now is on the health of newborns and infants under 18 months. Science tells us that exposure levels are below those that could cause health effects.”
So far, Canada is in agreement with EFSA and the FDA and the breathless reporting by the Journal Sentinel seems obtuse. Health Canada continues
“However, due to the uncertainty raised in some studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of bisphenol A, the Government of Canada is taking action to enhance the protection of infants and young children.
Studies have shown the main sources of exposure for newborns and infants are from bisphenol A migrating from the lining of cans into liquid infant formula and migrating from the polycarbonate baby bottles into the liquid inside following the addition of boiling water.”
Canada, as Europe, regulates chemicals according to the precautionary principle, which obligates it to take action – as Health Canada notes,
“Even though scientific information may be inconclusive, decisions have to be made to meet society's expectations that risks be addressed and living standards maintained.”
As a consequence, the uncertainty over BPA requires that it be labeled “toxic” under Section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act when used in food containers. BPA has been a hot environmental topic in Canada for years, fueled in large part by environmental activist groups, and newspapers, such as the Toronto Globe and Mail following the same path as the Journal Sentinel and citing the same core group of scientists claiming a risk.
That Canada’s decision on BPA was scientifically controversial is highlighted not only by the EU’s rejection of the evidence upon which it determined precautionary action, but, as already noted by France’s Health Minister’s explicit criticism of the decision when asked whether France would follow Canada’s lead.