Victoria's Secret vs. Greenpeace

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This week, the lingerie company Victoria's Secret is no longer under threat of investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, but it will still have to contend with Greenpeace.

The FCC decided not to investigate complaints that the Victoria's Secret fashion show broadcast on ABC last year was too racy. Greenpeace, on the other hand, continues to denounce Victoria's Secret and Body Works for using "toxic PVC [polyvinyl cholride] plastic in their product packaging," stating in a press release that "PVC is the most damaging plastic to human health and the environment." Both the production and disposal of PVC releases dioxin into the environment, argues Greenpeace, and humans may eat animals who ingest the dioxin.

As noted in ACSH's new report, Cancer Clusters: Findings vs. Feelings, the only proven harm to humans from PVC came, as is often the case with chemicals feared by activists, from very high exposure levels among workers involved in the manufacture of PVC, who experienced a higher rate of a rare liver cancer after massive daily exposure to VCM (vinyl chloride monomer). This is in no way comparable to handling a shampoo bottle, let alone comparable to eating an animal that has grazed on a field near a discarded shampoo bottle.

The controversy is in some ways analogous to the asbestos debate, since the great fear of asbestos and the expensive efforts to remove it from buildings have been driven mainly by the finding decades ago that workers heavily exposed to airborne asbestos in shipbuilding yards, especially workers who were also smokers, were at increased risk of lung cancer. That's a far cry from walking down a hallway with asbestos firmly embedded in its fireproofed walls. The amount of exposure matters.

Greenpeace knows how to attract attention to sexy, exciting topics. Their members often appear on the street near the ACSH offices, so I've spoken to one of their well-meaning recruiters as he told me that Arctic drilling would "compromise the integrity of the whole region" (a vague, largely aesthetic complaint that is hard to prove or disprove), that the Bush administration is spending no money on clean air and alternative energy sources (untrue), and that Greenpeace is "not real fond" of genetically-modified foods and lobbies against them. He admitted it wasn't clear to him what's so dangerous about genetically-modified foods and said he thinks his fellow Greenpeace members simply "don't want people messing with nature; it occurs naturally and we don't need to go in there...They don't want nature tweaked when nature does a pretty good job itself."

Nature sometimes does a fine job witness the Victoria's Secret fashion show but not every manipulation of nature by humans is harmful, and not every manmade chemical kills and sickens us even in miniscule amounts. Greenpeace would do well to stick to rescuing seals and whales and leave the underwear sellers alone.