Give facts a chance, listen to the public

By: Clay Boswell


TheCalifornia EPA made a surprising announcement earlier this month: the Developmentaland Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee had declined to place BisphenolA on a list of chemicals known to cause birth defects.

 

And yet,laws banning BPA are being considered in 20 states.

 

Whataccounts for the California decision? What do professional toxicologists knowthat lawmakers and their constituents do not? And why?

 

In a recentsurvey of about 1,000 members of the Society of Toxicology, only 9% consideredBPA a high risk to health, nearly the same number (11%) who consideredhigh-fructose corn syrup a high risk. They were evenly divided between mediumand low risk – 39% and 37%, respectively.

 

However, whenthey were asked to assess the reliability of major news organizations assources of information regarding toxicology, there was widespread agreement -over 90% — that television news and local newspapers overstate risks. Over 80%said national newspapers overstate risk.

 

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Is thisfair? No, but neither is life, as your parents probably told you. Facts willconvince scientists, but they will not convince the public. As riskcommunications expert Peter Sandman has shown, risk, in the public arena, isnot only the likelihood of harm, but also the outrage it provokes.

 

It maysound quaint, but people need to be heard. The chemical industry must not onlytalk, it must also listen closely, acknowledge concerns and admitting togenuine error if it wants the facts to have a chance.

 

 



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