By Dr. Gilbert Ross, the Executive Director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in New York.
We are thus being led to believe such false notions that all chemicals are unsafe, that many consumer goods are dangerous to human health, and that chemical exposure — no matter how minute — causes cancer.
Using well-coordinated media campaigns and well-oiled PR machines, environmental groups have fostered a fear of chemicals as their vehicle of choice for driving support for chemical regulatory reform. If you’re looking for an example, no group has been more overt in its attacks against chemicals than the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been working on overdrive to exacerbate an already exaggerated public fear of chemicals:
In October, the NRDC released what they loosely termed a “study,” alleging that “flawed assumptions and outdated risk assessment methods” exposed seafood lovers in the Gulf to 10,000 times the FDA-designated levels of chemical contamination. To ensure the utmost alarm, the report cited pregnant women and children as the most at risk, and seized upon the lingering outrage over the BP oil spill. Of course, the FDA and Gulf state public health agencies responded angrily to this completely fabricated scare.
The NRDC foments public fear by disseminating junk science allegations claiming that the plastic hardener bisphenol-A is linked to obesity, reduced “sperm quality,” and “endocrine disruption.” One of the favorite tactics used by these groups is conflating the mere presence of a substance with toxicity; thus, when they claim that “95% of Americans have BPA in their body,” their intent is to convey a health threat, which is in fact non-existent.
Most egregiously, the NRDC recently released another so-called study, this time asserting that chemicals were to blame for 42 disease clusters in 13 states. Their “senior scientist” used this farce to testify before the Senate, calling for tightening TSCA regulation “to protect public health,” of course.
We at ACSH believed that this allegation would not stand up to scientific inquiry, and we commenced an investigation into the evidence basis of these chemical outbreaks. Our response, entitled Chemophobia Cluster at the Natural Resources Defense Council, uses the principles of sound science to refute the NRDC claims. The NRDC, like their comrades in the environmental extremist movement, has no compunction about distorting the scientific process and misleading Congress, the media, and the public.
If these professional fear mongers get their way, the system will be re-configured such that chemicals are presumed to be harmful until proven “safe,” no matter the weight of evidence or experience. This approach would surely bring about stringent and unnecessary restrictions on many widely used chemicals that are completely safe and vital to our standard of living.
Take the group of chemicals known as phthalates, which are already being targeted by a multi-pronged chemical regulatory action plan at the EPA. They are mainly used as plasticizers — additives which enhance the durability and flexibility of plastic in life-saving medical devices, wires and cables, and hundreds of other consumer items. Given that phthalates have been used commercially and studied vigorously for more than fifty years, the attack on these chemicals illustrates the illusory nature of the alleged threat promulgated by NRDC and its ilk. That’s certainly no way to bring about reasonable change in chemical regulation to better protect public health.
We should not allow fear engendered by public-relations savvy zealots to dictate chemical policy in Washington — or anywhere else, for that matter. We will all be the worse for it if they do.
Dr. Ross is the Executive Director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in New York.