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January 15 2013

Selling Scary Stories on Chemicals

Julie Gunlock

Alarmists have it easy. If they want to spread scary stories and outright lies, they have a more-than-willing press to help them do just that.

Take this article in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer's Health section entitled: "The EPA's most worrisome toxins." 

As expected, the article's information on (and guidance on avoiding) certain chemicals is as predictable as it is wrong.

The article starts off saying BPA is considered an "estrogenic and has been shown to affect the reproductive systems of laboratory animals."  Yet, as I and others at IWF have explained before, the average person’s dietary intake of BPA ranges anywhere between 0.00048 to 0.0016 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day. That is far below the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) set by Europe’s Scientific Committee on Food of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day.

In other words, we're not getting anywhere near dangerous levels of BPA exposure and certainly not enough to disrupt our endocrine functions.

As for the editor’s claim that BPA is "shown to affect the reproductive system," they fail to cite any studies that support this statement (in fact, the entire article is free of citations). That’s because the studies that show this this scary endocrine disruption have absolutely no resemblance to the way in which BPA is used by humans.  In these studies, rats, not humans, are injected with massive doses of BPA.  Is anyone surprised that these rats might develop health problems? Luckily, humans aren’t mainlining BPA.

The most common way humans are exposed to BPA is by ingesting food and beverages that have been stored in containers that contain BPA (plastic bottles, canned food). Yet, it only leaves trace (almost undetectable) amounts of BPA in their bodies.

But hey, if the editors of the “health” section of the Philadelphia Inquirer are too busy to fact check their own stories (maybe they're too busy sending off resumes!), we’re happy to do it for them.

The Philadelphia Inquirer article explains that we should have similar concerns about another chemical, called Phthalates, warning that the "chemical interferes with the production of male reproductive hormones in animals and considered likely to have similar effects in humans." You’ve got to love the rhetorical gymnastics employed with this warning.  The editors hope the reader will be so terrified by the suggestion that these everyday chemicals are harmful that they’ll simply miss important phrases like "in animals" and "considered likely to have similar effects." In other words, like BPA, these tests on Phthalates were conducted on animals who received an enormous dose of the chemical directly into their blood stream. Again, these are circumstances completely different from how these chemicals are used by humans. 

At the bottom of the article, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as listed as sources, yet the editors managed to leave out the fact that the EPA and the CDC considers these chemicals to be perfectly safe for common use. 

Of course, the real sources, as the editors also listed, are two far left-wing environmental organizations: the Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In fact, the article reads like talking points taken right from their websites.

Instead of relying on these biased organizations, it might have been nice if the editors had consulted some experts in the area—actual toxicologists (after all, the article is about “toxins”).

But when you read the results of a 2009 survey of members of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) by polling firm Harris Interactive, it’s clear that toxicologists might not have given the paper the scary information they were seeking:

  • 79% of toxicologists say the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)--the two non-government sources for the article--overstate the risks associated with chemicals.
  • 90% say media coverage of risk lacks balance and diversity.
  • 97% say the media doesn’t distinguish good studies from bad studies.
  • 96% say the media doesn’t distinguish correlation from causation

Clearly the EWG and the NRDC are poor sources of information on toxins but that didn’t stop these newspaper editors from printing these lies.  And why not; newspapers have to papers to sell…and nothing sells like a scary story!

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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