Scientists associated with the American Council on Science and Health today rejected as alarmist and unscientific the claims espoused in the new book Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health. The book was written by reporters Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle and the Center for Public Integrity.
Toxic Deception claims that our daily use of "a panoply of synthetic substances is helping to drive up rates of cancer, sterility, chronic fatigue, and many other diseases and illnesses." But the book fails to document scientific evidence that any of this is actually occurring. That failure is not surprising, because, as the Center for Public Integrity admits, "we are not scientists . . ." Nor, for that matter, are authors Fagin and Lavelle.
The book's argument suffers from five major flaws:
* Very little critical evaluation of the book's basic premise that public health is being harmed by the use of synthetic chemicals. To give just one example, cancer rates are not rising, except for those cancers linked to smoking and overexposure to sunlight. And overall cancer mortality is, in fact, decreasing.
* An overreliance on animal tests as accurate predictors of human response. (The authors of Toxic Deception go so far as to view valid scientific concerns in this area with suspicion.)
* The failure of the authors to distinguish effects at high doses from those at low levels in the environment, thus ignoring the basic tenet of toxicology: The dose makes the poison.
* The failure of the authors to consider the "natural" chemicals not produced by the chemical industry some of which are potent carcinogens according to the standards used by the authors to judge synthetic chemicals.
* An underlying assumption that all industry-funded research is tainted.
Absent any balanced scientific discourse, the book does offer some juicy reading. Its authors would have us believe that there is a conspiracy among chemical manufacturers to skew science, influence politicians, use "scorched earth" courtroom strategies, and buy publicity. In Toxic Deception federal regulators are rendered impotent in the face of industry-sponsored junkets and job offers. The book's authors also see conspiracy in industry funding of university research, in the presence of chemical industry executives on government advisory boards, and in industry donations to the "cancer research establishment." In fact, according to Cindy F. Kleiman, M.P.H., ACSH's coordinator of toxicology projects, Toxic Deception contains enough intrigue and innuendo to fuel several episodes of The X Files; the only thing missing is aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico.
Toxic Deception does a disservice to the American consumer: It conveys misinformation and scares people unnecessarily. It also distracts its readers from known major causes of human disease, and especially from those such as cigarette smoking that are associated with lifestyle. According to ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, ". . . no evidence exists of the 'explosion' of death and disease. . . . Indeed, the technological society that produced these chemicals has improved our health far more than harmed it."