The President’s Cancer Panel has caused quite a stir with its release of a report imputing cancer to environmental chemicals. The report practically plagiarizes the work of anti-chemical activist groups, including the Environmental Working Group’s catchphrase that babies are “pre-polluted” with chemicals, and in its frequent homage to the precautionary principle.
“This so-called Presidential Cancer Panel, which consists of two physicians, has obviously been politically pressured by the activists running the EPA,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “When they mention babies being ‘pre-polluted’ and the alleged dangers of all of these chemicals, they not only sign their name to activist screeds, they neglect to mention that the dose makes the poison, and that finding traces of chemicals at levels of parts-per-billion does not imply a health hazard. And of course they do not address the potential health hazards of banning important chemicals from consumer products.”
The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who is not known for dry-eyed rationality when it comes to chemicals like BPA, is in a predictable state of panic: “One reason for concern is that some cancers are becoming more common, particularly in children. We don’t know why that is, but the proliferation of chemicals in water, foods, air and household products is widely suspected as a factor.” Kristof also seems credulous when the report blames “the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary.”
“One ‘devil chemical’ that pervades this report is BPA,” says Dr. Whelan. “Scientific panels are under so much activist pressure to ban BPA that even when the FDA did its third evaluation and still found no evidence of danger, they added some words of caution to appease the activists. What makes the report even more insidious is that imaginary dangers like using plastic food containers are mixed together with actual risk factors like smoking and excess UV radiation, so that unscientific chemical ‘dangers’ are implicitly compared to smoking. This makes the forthcoming ACSH paper on chemophobia even more important.”
Despite all of the alarmism, some news sources are bringing balance to the narrative. The L.A. Times quotes our own Dr. Whelan pointing out that, despite what Nicholas Kristof says, “cancer death rates are going down. The so-called environmental trace levels of chemicals play no role whatsoever in the etiology of cancer.” And both the L.A. Times and Reuters Health quote Dr. Michael Thun, emeritus vice president of epidemiology at the American Cancer Society.
“We agree that there are many important issues here … but a reader would come away from this report believing that pollutants cause most cancer,” Dr. Thun tells the L.A. Times. The article continues: “In fact, he said, most cancers are caused by tobacco, alcohol, overexposure to ultraviolet light, radiation and sexually transmitted infections. The report ‘presents an unbalanced perspective’ of the relative importance of these various factors, he said.”
“Usually, mainstream media outlets like to play up these scary stories,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “You know activists have gone too far when mainstream media outlets such as the L.A. Times and Reuters Health have a skeptical slant. Activist groups are using this report to promote their agenda of creating an illusion of a need for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act. The anti-science forces have their act together, and as we discussed yesterday, with your help, we are going to combat it with science in our Sound Science Caucus in Congress.”