I have two children under the age of two, so I’ve heard a lot of concern from other parents over bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is a chemical used in making plastics, including baby bottles and children’s toys. Supposedly, the chemical will increase your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and is alleged to cause neurological damage among other things.
Except after carefully examining the BPA-free baby bottles at Babies ‘R Us that cost five times as much as ordinary plastic bottles, I couldn’t find one reliable study that seemed to substantiate any of these dramatic claims about BPA. Just yesterday, California refused to classify BPA as a chemical causing reproductive harm. John Tierney’s science blog at the New York Times a few weeks ago highlighted a report concluding:
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, 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 that it funded a lot of poorly-designed research on BPA — the very research that is 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.
I’ve seen some estimates that over a billion people have had exposure to BPA and there isn’t proof of anything. So why the big scare? I assume trial lawyers are involved in the fear mongering. That’s a given.
But then I saw that last year two reporters from the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel won a George Polk Award — a major journalism honor — for reporting on the “dangers” of BPA. It’s another reminder that there are some perverse incentives for journalists. Dramatic reports on threats to public safety win awards. Reporting that those same threats are overblown and likely egged on by those hoping to make millions of off class-action lawsuits is applauded by no one.