A CASE STUDY OF BISPHENOL A (BPA) RISK COMMUNICATION: GOVERNMENT AGENCIES, INTEREST GROUPS AND THE MEDIA
Truant, Patricia Lynn
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Bisphenol A (BPA) is a high-production chemical found in the food supply that has been the subject of public health concerns over the last decade. Government agencies, public health and environmental organizations, industry interest groups and the media have presented conflicting information and conclusions about BPA’s safety. This topic provided a rich context to explore risk communication on a politicized and scientifically complex issue with implications for effective risk management and regulatory decision-making. This case study of BPA risk communication includes a qualitative review of stakeholder website documents using the risk assessment framework, a quantitative news media content analysis and an analysis of semi-structured key stakeholder interviews. Findings confirmed that mixed messages were prevalent in the news media. Key stakeholders disagreed on the public health impacts of BPA. Secondly, distrust among stakeholders and perceived lacks of objectivity were highlighted as key challenges in conveying risks to the public. Third, risk management of BPA lacked focus on comprehensive solutions. The success of risk management efforts depends on the ability of public health professionals to translate data and communicate about complex scientific issues. Although BPA is just one example of the many common chemical exposures people face, it is emblematic of environmental policy and risk assessment in the U.S., with its history of controversy, conflicting messages and complicated regulatory structure. BPA and other environmental chemicals present emerging challenges to public health professionals in different capacities as researchers, advocates, and regulators. This research fills a gap in the literature on risk communication and news media coverage of a major risk issue of worldwide importance with implications for current and future generations.