Tag Archives: bpa

New health-related state laws for 2011

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Many thanks to Melissa Preddy for pointing out, in a post on the Reynolds Center’s businessjournalism.org, the National Conference of State Legislatures’ roundup of new laws that have already go into effect in 2011, or will soon. It’s a national list loaded with localization-ready ideas and issues that should be surfacing throughout the year. Hot-button topics include expanding medical coverage and several nutrition-related laws.

Here are a few highlights, taken directly from the NCSL’s list.

Connecticut will soon be requiring health insurance policies that cover anticancer medications to cover the oral drugs at least as favorably as it does the IV ones. The law prohibits insurers from reclassifying anticancer medications or increasing the patient’s out-of-pocket costs as a way to comply.

A new Missouri law requires all group health benefit plans to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Coverage is limited to medically necessary treatment ordered by the insured’s treating physician. The law also requires the Department of Insurance and other institutions to submit a report to the legislature regarding the implementation of this coverage, including specified costs.

California became the first, on Jan. 1, 2010, to prohibit oil, shortening or margarine containing artificial trans fats in restaurants and other food facilities. Beginning Jan 1, 2011, the original law will extend to other foods containing artificial trans fats, primarily baked goods.

Retailers in Minnesota will now be banned from selling cups and bottles intended for children age 3 or younger that contain bisphenol A (BPA). These same restrictions went into effect for in-state manufacturers and wholesalers on Jan. 1, 2010.

California lawmakers have also enacted a new law requiring free drinking water for students in school cafeterias or food service areas. Schools must comply by July 1, 2011.

California will soon require all children under the age of 18, including patrollers and resort employees, to wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding. Resorts will be required to post notice about the law, including on trail maps and resort websites.

BPA linked to problems in factory workers

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Scott Hensley, on NPR’s newly christened “Shots” health blog, points us to a five-year study of men who work in Chinese factories that make bisphenol A or use it to make other products.

plastic-bottle

Photo by How can I recycle this via Flickr

The study found that “Men exposed to high levels of BPA on the job had a much greater chance of sexual problems than men who weren’t.” The factory workers are exposed to much higher levels of BPA than the average American, so research into how low a level of exposure might affect the human reproductive system must be done.

There are concerns that BPA is a threat to human health. Some studies have linked it to cancer, diabetes and developmental damage in animals, while other studies have not found such a link. Meanwhile, researchers have charged that studies showing a link were flawed. And, of course, the laboratory research is limited to animals. The controversy has extended to how the chemical has been covered in the media.

Journal Sentinel: STATS not as impartial as it claims

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger make the case that George Mason University-affiliated STATS, a media watchdog group that calls itself a “non-profit, non-partisan Statistical Assessment Service” actually has “a history of working for corporations trying to deflect concerns about the safety of their products.” They note that the organization contracted with Philip Morris at least twice to monitor news coverage on behalf of tobacco companies.

plastic-bottle

Photo by How can I recycle this via Flickr

STATS recently accused the media in general and the Journal Sentinel in particular of using sketchy science to over-inflate fears about bisphenol A. As Rust and Kissinger mention, “Gina Kolata of The New York Times and the Center for Health Care Journalists [sic]” repeated STATS’ claims of impartiality when writing about its report on BPA.

Rust’s and Kissinger’s research about STATS turned up documents, including an internal memo outlining Phillip Morris’ strategy for using STATS reports for their own PR purposes.

Rust and Kissinger also found that, while STATS does not disclose its donors, IRS documents showed that “the Sarah Scaife Foundation reported giving STATS $100,000 in 2007, an amount that equaled all of STATS’ assets – except for $435 in income interest. The Scaife Foundation funds a number of organizations that promote public policy against regulation, including the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute.”

The reporters also chronicle an odd little incident in which they noticed that STATS listed the Hormone Society as a contributor on their Web site, a relationship which the foundation’s director vehemently denies.

Finally, reporters presented an interesting quote posted on the Poynter Institute’s Web site by STATS editor Trevor Butterworth, who they describe as “BPA’s fiercest advocate.”

“Forget conventional PR! If some bratty journalist gives you a whack, whack back with obscene, jaw dropping disproportion: knee him in the groin, pull what’s left of his hair out, tell him he writes in clichés, and misuses the semicolon, and stomp on his iPhone! A hack is like a bully, and charming a bully is a bit like reasoning with a psychopath or writing a novel on Twitter. For the tough cases, go Dada.  . . .  Defending the brand means exacting respect and that will come from fear not charm.”

Update

STATS has responded to the Journal Sentinel‘s article, including a specific note about the use of Butterworth’s quote from the Poynter Institute’s Web site.

CJR: BPA truth lies in the middle

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Sanhita Reddy reviews a recent STATS critique of media coverage regarding Bisphenol A and the dangers it may hold. According to Reddy, both STATS and outlets like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel have taken overly extreme positions in the debate. While science hasn’t quite figured out the truth yet, Reddy says, it probably lies somewhere toward the center.

In an even-handed critique, Reddy disputes STATS’ attacks on popular anti-BPA source Frederick vom Saal’s credentials, but agrees that the media has been overly reliant on the University of Missouri scientist. Reddy also points out the fine line between placing more importance upon larger-scale, more valid studies (many of which are industry-sponsored) and identifying the conflicts of interest which may or may not exist alongside those industry connections.

In the end Reddy concluded that the conflict was a confusing one, but that as long as they brought a healthy dose of skepticism and took an extra look at the methods and materials sections of the research they were consulting, reporters should be able to give it fair coverage.

STATS: Media ignored science in BPA coverage

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In a review of American media coverage of the controversy of bisphenol A, researchers at STATS (a nonprofit, nonpartisan Statistical Assessment Service affiliated with George Mason University), say the media failed to properly weight different studies based on their size and research methodology and relied too heavily on sources like the University of Missouri biologist Frederick vom Saal (bio page), a man STATS takes pains to discredit.

View the full 49-page pdf here.

The report’s thesis:

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.

STATS focused much of their effort on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s coverage, critiquing the paper’s methodology and motivation in reporting and researching BPA.

Did the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which wrote over 30,000 words on BPA in 2008 get lost in the evidence, and end up being seduced by a storyline that made for great journalism but not very good science?

The 27,000-word review includes the case against Vom Saal (pages 10 through 18), a related critique on the Journal-Sentinel‘s sources (pages 30 to 34), an illuminating tea analogy (page 15, infobox), and an explanation of how some studies are determined to be more valuable than others for risk-assessment purposes (pages 12 and 14, infobox). On pages 40 and 41, STATS mentions one of those valuable studies, from 2009, and questions why it was not covered in the media. Finally, those looking for the report’s most inflammatory language will find it in the conclusion (page 49).

It’s important to note that “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.” STATS goes on to explain that it tried to contact Kissinger’s co-author, reporter Susanne Rust, and Mark Katches, deputy managing editor for projects, and that neither responded.

FDA relied on industry during BPA approval

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel used the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain and review dozens of government e-mails and more than 100 attached files to find that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration actively leaned on BPA industry lobbyists “to do much of their work for them” during the approval process for bisphenol A.

The reporters say that “BPA, used to make hard, clear plastic common in many food product containers, is found in the urine of 93% of Americans. It has been linked to neurological defects, diabetes, breast and prostate cancer and heart disease.”

The FDA worked to discredit a Japanese study that linked BPA to miscarriages by going to a lobbyist  – before the government’s scientists even had a chance to review the study. And both studies the FDA relied upon to approve BPA were funded by chemical makers.

At the same time, the reporters found, independent BPA experts had not been given the same level of access to the FDA and in fact had found it difficult to even get their opinions heard during the process.

The e-mails Rust and Kissinger obtained appear to paint a pretty detailed picture of the cozy relationship between BPA lobbyists and FDA officials, citing numerous examples of privileged access granted to industry representatives and instances in which the government officials appeared to defer to their opinions and judgments.