Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Reporters Win Polk Award for BPA Series

By Shane Shirley-Smith
When we talk about becoming informed consumers, we must take time to thank the journalists who work every day to help us become aware of what our government and corporations are selling us. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger have won one of journalism's highest honors, a George Polk Award, for doing work the FDA should have been doing. Guess what, people listened, became informed and made changes in their lives even though the government refuses to remove BPA.

The reporters' 2008 series, Chemical Fallout, "is a series of investigative articles (click on the title above for a link to entire series) which alerted the public of ill health effects caused by exposure to chemicals we all have in our homes.

The series "castigated the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration for failing to monitor, regulate and ultimately ban potential toxins found in everyday materials, from 'microwave safe' plastics to baby bottles," the Polk awards committee said in a statement.

"Their reports about chemicals such as bisphenol A, or BPA, which causes neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals, reverberated from the halls of Congress to homes and schools across America."

These reporters, as well as their paper, showed a willingness to contribute time and resources to help US Citizens understand that what we thought was safe to use in our kitches, actually isn't. The reporters tested 10 containers labeled as "microwave safe." and found that when they were heated in a microwave, BPA leached from all of them.

"No one had really looked into how the microwave could effect the leaching of BPA" from a container, Rust said.

"We decided to test products that parents use with their children, and likely heat in a microwave," Rust said. "And we were blown away with what we found."

Journal Sentinel Managing Editor George Stanley said Rust and Kissinger have "worked tirelessly" for nearly two years to disclose a danger to public health.

"They've revealed that a chemical linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, genital birth defects and other illnesses on the rise in human beings could be leaching into soup, food and baby formula any time someone puts a plastic container in a microwave oven to warm something up."

"If this award makes more people aware of what they've found, it will be a great public service."

Sadly, according to the FDA website, the government is not changing its stance on the safety of BPA in our products:

"Based on our ongoing review, we believe there is a large body of evidence that indicates that FDA-regulated products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects. However, we will continue to consider new research and information as they become available.

This position is consistent with two risk assessments for BPA conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food and the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Each of these documents considered the question of a possible low-dose effect and concluded that no current health risk exists for BPA at the current exposure level.

Message for Consumers
At this time, FDA is not recommending that anyone discontinue using products that contain BPA while we continue our risk assessment process. However, concerned consumers should know that several alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist, including glass baby bottles."

Once again, to the benefit of US consumers, reporters were able to wake people up to the dangers of BPA. Too bad our government never seems to be able to kick the habit of anesthetizing themselves to the fact that when it comes to the health of US consumers, clear warnings and removal of products is of primary importance. Good job for listening consumers and great job Rust and Kissinger for staying committed for two years to alert the public. Congratulations to us all! Sorry FDA, your not invited to this party.

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