(again, part of the continuing series in my Ask This Librarian project)
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.
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”.
- An article from the Environmental Working Group has a timeline of events and studies related to BPA. They include links to the study summaries in many cases. (Some summaries are a lot more technical than others, though.)
- While I wouldn’t rely on the Wikipedia article for a topic like this without further cross-checking, the article on BPA has an extensive footnote and resource list that also includes links to many studies. (It also includes a summary of a number of non-US based studies with links to the studies themselves.)
- And from the Wikipedia resources section, I found a link to an article about why trusting the studies is problematic without knowing a lot more about how they were done; the article is in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Practices.
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.