When it comes to the political side of the Bisphenol A (BPA) story, we owe a real debt to Meg Kissinger and Susanne Rust of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. They have followed the money (FDA Chair Studying BPA Took $5 Million Donation From BPA Supporter or FDA Chair's Donor was Michigan's "First Polluter") or and the political processes ( How Science Works at the FDA) and have been justly awarded prizes for their coverage.
Now they are covering the industry pushback, the "highly calibrated campaign by plastics makers to fight federal regulation of BPA, downplay its risks and discredit anyone who characterizes the chemical as a health threat."
Journal-Sentinel graphic showing connections
New public relations materials show how the chemical industry is getting more aggressive about protecting its image as worries about chemicals in plastics mount - often in new and subtle ways.
Chemical makers and plastics industry executives are putting up their own versions of news clips on social media outlets such as YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, Twitter and blogs. Often, they are disguised as neutral, unbiased information and rarely reveal the source.
(All of the youtube videos linked to in the article, written on August 22, have been removed by their owners.)
So what might look to consumers researching BPA on the Internet as independent information are often stories written by chemical industry public relations writers.
Allegiances are not always explained. The most impassioned defense of BPA on the blogs comes from Trevor Butterworth, editor of Statistical Assessment Service, also known as STATS. He regularly combs the Internet for stories about BPA and offers comments without revealing his ties to industry.
Trevor Butterworth wrote a fascinating 27,000 word essay called Science Suppressed: How America became obsessed with BPA challenging the Journal Sentinel and those who want to get rid of the stuff. But I take Butterworth with a grain of salt; read Huffington Post Gets Astroturfed for more information. He responded to my post:
...it shows why so many liberal scientists I know now despise environmental activists: you are more interested in slander and religious pronouncements than engaging in empirically-driven debate.
Which I find really funny, having been called a "corporate greenwashing agenda lackey" because I did not insist that everyone throw out their old SIGG. But as David Rosner points out at the end of the Journal Sentinel article, regarding the industry's actions:
"If I hadn't studied how this industry has operated in the past, I would say I was shocked," Rosner said. "But this attempt to deflect and distort public opinion is par for the course. They will ultimately do virtually anything to protect their product, even attack the messengers."
He added: "We're watching a propaganda campaign in the making."
The real scandal has become, as Butterworth notes, the loss of "empirically-driven debate" in America. Everything is polarized and emotional; If you are in favor of universal healthcare you are a Nazi; it has got to the point that if you think that Saturday mail delivery is unneccessary you are a member of the "liberal elite" who use computers.
But ultimately, when you do look at the Bisphenol A studies, it doesn't take a long time to decide that putting a synthetic estrogen in your kid's mouth is not a particularly good idea, and that there is more to this story than "slander and religious pronouncements."
More in the Journal Sentinel
More on the political side of the BPA Story:
FDA Chair Studying BPA Took $5 Million Donation From BPA Supporter
BPA Update: Canada Declares it Toxic, FDA Chair's Donor was Michigan's "First Polluter"
BPA Update: How Science Works at the FDA