Ask this librarian – BPA study summaries

(again, part of the continuing series in my Ask This Librarian project)

Today’s question:

Both sides of the BPA debate love to mention studies. This usually takes the form of “studies actually show…” rather than useful cites. How can I track down these studies, and has anyone done a findable summary of the studies that at least appears to attempt to analyze the data before finding its conclusion, instead of vice versa?

This is, as one might imagine, a rather complicated question to answer.

My answer:

You’re right that this is a very complex subject. I started by looking a little bit at what the government health organisations are actually saying about BPA in products.

The Department of Health and Human Services page on Bisphenol A Information for Parents says: (bolding theirs)

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration conducted a review of toxicology research and information on BPA, and, at that time, judged food-related materials containing BPA on the market to be safe.

But recent studies have reported subtle effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals.  While BPA is not proven to harm children or adults, these newer studies have led federal health officials to express some concern about the safety of BPA.

The Department of Health and Human Services — through its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — is investing in important new health studies in both animals and humans to better determine and evaluate the potential health effects of BPA exposure, including $30 million in studies at NIH.  We expect to have the results of this scientific research in approximately 18 to 24 months.

The FDA page has similar information, and includes links to the early 2010 announcement of further research, and additional resources. Both include links to some of the more recent studies, or information about them if they’re still in process.

However, neither of those links really answers the question of “Where can I find summaries of the existing studies”.

Those three sources should give some excellent places to start, as well as some sense of context (timeline, related studies, etc.)

My search process:

I was actually expecting this one to be a little more complicated than it turned out to be. I’m glad I started by looking at the FDA and HHS sites, because they both gave me a better idea of what the current state of the research was, and give nice summaries of what the next steps are (useful for someone who’s trying to figure out what choices to make).

After that, I tried a few Google searches (BPA, bisphenol-A, etc.) but thought to try Wikipedia relatively quickly. As I say in my answer, I wouldn’t trust the content on a topic like this (which is both technical and controversial, so more than usually liable to problematic writing/editing), but the linked references and the resource lists are both very thorough. After that, it was mostly a matter of looking for the best resources, and clicking through to see which ones were most useful for this answer.

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2 comments to Ask this librarian – BPA study summaries

  • Laura

    Jen,

    Thank you for the research on this – I never even looked at Wikipedia, figuring as you did that the content would be questionable. I didn’t consider the potential links there.

    I’m going to be reading for a while now, I think….

  • Jen

    Very welcome! (And there certainly are a lot of studies out there! I was glad when I found the chronological list, as it at least put things in some sort of sequence.)

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine at Farmington, the small liberal arts college model campus in the University of Maine system.

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