LePage's "Beards" Remark Goes International
In what has become a recurring theme for Maine Governor Paul LePage, a flippant remark has once again earned him days of negative press coverage.
LePage's latest controversial comment, made to reporters last week, is that "there's not been any science identified that there's a problem" with endocrine disrupting chemical bisphenol-A, and that "the only thing that I've heard is if you take a plastic bottle, put it in the microwave and then heat it up it gives off a chemical that's similar to estrogen. And so the worst case is some women might have little beards."
From the initial report in the Bangor Daily News yesterday, the story has spread quickly, and was featured this morning in newspapers as far afield as the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Mail in the UK. Popular science, environmental, and political blogs have also picked up the story.
Susan Sharon at MPBN has perhaps the most comprehensive coverage, with reaction from environmental groups, the Maine Women's Lobby and the Maine toxicologist tasked by the state with studying the chemical.
"In the last ten years or so there have been more than a hundred papers, working with animals documenting effects at much lower levels and in different kinds of systems and in different kinds of receptors," Dr. Deborah Rice is quoted as saying. "So in my mind, it's no longer a controversy whether bisphenol A in animals produces adverse effects at the same levels that humans are exposed to."
Rice notes that research has linked BPA to cancer, sexual dysfunction and heart disease in humans and could have the most damaging effects on developing fetuses and children.
Beard growing is not one of the chemical's known effects.
LePage spokesperson Dan Demeritt has defended the statement as a "casual joke" that has been blown out of proportion.
Not only is this joke another hit to LePage's personal credibility and stature as governor, but it's just about the most damaging thing he could have said in regards to his position on this controversial issue.
From a communications point of view, a joke about women with beards, even an inaccurate one, brings home the dangerous and scary effects of a toxic chemical's effects on our bodies' basic processes in a way that lab reports and scientific papers never could. The image in people's minds as they consider LePage's plan to allow BPA into baby bottles and sippy-cups will now be a woman with a beard.
The first part of LePage's statement is troubling as well. He didn't just say that he disagrees with or finds flaws with the science showing real and dangerous health effects of BPA, he claims that it doesn't exist.
This means that he hasn't looked into the science himself and that his advisers, some of whom have been lobbyists for the chemical industry and other opponents of BPA regulation, are obviously providing him a very narrow view of the issue.
LePage's full remarks: