The War on Synthetic Chemicals: Part MCCXVII


The Environmental Working Group rolled out its latest anti-synthetic chemicals campaign today with a full page ad in the New York Times. The ad features the lugubrious face of breast cancer survivor/activist Andrea Martin with the ominous headline that she "contains 59 cancer-causing industrial chemicals." EWG has tested 9 people for the presence of 200 industrial chemicals and they found them. This campaign is designed to piggyback on a new Centers for Disease Control study billed as the the "most extensive assessment to date of Americans' exposure to environmental chemicals." The CDC report will be released this Friday and will cover 116 toxic substances.

The proper response to the EWG scare campaign should be a resounding, So What?!

EWG is peddling alarmism in the hoary old tradition of Rachel Carson. After 4 decades of failed alarums, environmental activists are still waiting for the long predicted man-made epidemic of cancer to materialize. In fact, if cancer due to smoking were excluded, cancer rates in the United States have fallen by 16% since 1950, according to University of California researcher Bruce Ames. The American Institute for Cancer Research concludes, "Exposure to all manufactured chemicals in air, water, soil and food is believed to cause less than 1% of all cancers."

The plain old boring fact is that the vast majority of cancers are the result of smoking, alcohol, dietary fat consumption, and sunburn. But that means there aren't any villains and without villains, who needs activists like EWG? And indeed, who does?


NEXT: Bottomless Irony

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  1. Ronald – very well said. If there is not some sort of crisis out there, these activists are out of a job. Hence their job is to manufacture crises whenever possible. This becomes a big circular reference.

  2. Cancer rates have fallen since 1950. OK, kiddies, let’s try to think of what has happened in that time. Can anyone say, “environmental regulations?” In the 1940s, you could dump PCBs in the creek and no one cared. Today, you can’t. Thank you, EPA.

  3. Well, the EPA was founded around 1971, right? So what happened between 1950 and 1970? Also, EPA was one of the principle agents behind banning DDT – so the deaths of millions are on their hands…

  4. Hold up a minute Joe-what EWG is talking about is chemicals detectable now–the plain fact is that no one has ever shown that trace exposures to synthetic chemicals, even when relatively unregulated, have ever been a major cause of cancer. Of course, some do cause cancer in occupational exposures and so people who work closely with them need to be protected. By the way, for the record, there have been NO replicated studies showing a connection between DDT exposure and any type of cancer.

  5. You forgot to mention oxygen (ie free radicals, which may also be responsible for aging) in your list of cancer-causers. I say we sue the Kingdom Plantae for damages. After all, this planet had a nice atmosphere of Ammonia and Methane before they released their dreaded carcinogen into it.

  6. The greatest disease threatening our nation arises from calculated, predatory hysteria and the relatively unconfronted promotion of concretized thinking. How many Americans have died too young in the abandoning vaccuum created by the vanity and sanctimony of the philanthropoids and the single-issue moralists that pander shame for money? Whether the tragic human price of prohibitionism, the eugenic usurpation of the physician-patient relationship, or the stunning glamorization and spread of legalism, we face a frightening era in the history of the individual vs. the legalist. What so many of these “activist groups” share is a fascist temperment. Certainly, the ultimate product of their agenda is Totalitarianism; using the title of science with a reckless self-assurance that is reminiscent of 1930’s European elitists obsessed with browline, forehead and nasal prominences. Jack-boot moralists have a history we should remember. We should tell our children to beware of more than corn and hamburger — to beware the seduction of the “myth of certainty” — and to expect and fear Man’s proclivity toward fascism and totalitarianism as the greatest evil yet let loose upon the earth.

  7. EMAIL:
    DATE: 02/28/2004 07:34:19
    We are as God made us, and often a great deal worse.

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