Posted by: Shaun | May 24, 2008

Junk science, failed institutions and BPA

Last night on Bill Moyers’ Journal, a report about Bisphenol A (BPA) by the PBS investigative journalism outfit Exposé was aired, complete with a kickin’ eighties guitar intro that makes you feel like you’re right there chasing down the bad guys with Crockett and Tubbs. The bad guys in question aren’t peddlers of narcotics but of every day household goods made of plastic containing BPA and their products are all perfectly legal in spite of a growing number of studies suggesting links between the chemical in question and a number of endocrinological maladies.

The story on Moyer’s show recapitulated the efforts of science journalists at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2007 to sift through the research on BPA and determine where the evidence actually pointed. What they found is disturbingly familiar:

Of the 258 studies reviewed by the Journal Sentinel, 168 studies looked at low-dose effects of bisphenol A.

The vast majority – 132 studies- found health problems at low doses, including hyperactivity, diabetes and genital deformities. All but one of those studies were conducted by non-industry scientists. Nearly three-fourthsof the studies that found the chemical had no harmful effects were funded by industry.

Shockingly, the lion’s share of “scientific” inquiry concluding that bisphenol A is perfectly safe has been funded by the very industries that depend on the chemical for their products. Now, the question remains, given the significant quantity of data in hundreds of studies about it, how did the National Toxicology Program panel on BPA assess the risks of the chemical in its report that year?

The panel said it considered more than 700 studies by university scientists, government researchers and industry-funded chemists. It picked the work it felt was best and threw out the rest.

The Journal Sentinel found that panel members gave more weight to industry-funded studies and more leeway to industry-funded researchers.

• The panel rejected academic studies that found harm – citing inadequate methods. But the panel accepted industry-funded studies using the same methods that concluded the chemical does not pose risks.

• The panel missed dozens of studies publicly available that the Journal Sentinel found online using a medical research Internet search engine. The studies the panel considered were chosen, in part, by a consultant with links to firms that made bisphenol A.

• More and more university researchers and foreign governments are finding that bisphenol A can do serious damage in small doses. But the panel rejected studies mostly submitted by university and international government scientists that looked at the impact at these levels.

• The panel accepted a Korean study translated by the chemical industry’s trade group that found bisphenol A to be safe. It also accepted two studies that were not subjected to any peer review – the gold standard of scientific credibility. Both studies were funded by General Electric Co., which made bisphenol A until it sold its plastics division earlier this year.

[…]

Panel chairman Robert Chapin, a toxicologist who works for Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical giant, defended his group’s work.

“We didn’t flippin’ care who does the study,” said Chapin, who worked as a government scientist for 18 years before joining Pfizer.

If the studies followed good laboratory practices and were backed with strong data, they were accepted, Chapin said.

Of course, pressure has mounted since then and NTP has revised its conclusions in a report published last month, as Americanus has previously reported. Still, the industrial-regulatory nexus of faux enforcement and revolving doors is growing quite tiresome, especially in a case where people’s health and perhaps even lives are at stake.

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