ACSH Dispatches Round-Up

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December 24, 2007 : "Dangerous" Toys, Snacks and Races; Common Sense on Food Contamination

• Quote to Note: “Industry scientists and many federal regulators say these exposures are harmless.” – Amy Schoenfeld in the New York Times about chemicals in everyday household products.

• Before you start enjoying your holidays, an article in New York Times wants you to worry. The article’s does not caution about lead paint in toys (although that fear resulted in 10 million recalled toys this year), but the focus is instead on chemicals in everyday products. The Times does not stop with fear-inducing terminology – like calling these products “toxic.” When ACSH staffers selected the interactive graphic we learned that hair dye, rubber duckies and even rugs are possible “carcinogens.”

“‘Carcinogen’ basically means ‘cancer-causing,’” explained ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “It’s horrifically misleading. These labels are solely based on rodent studies." The graphic in particular is frustrating – everything in our households are “toxic,” it seems. How can this be at all constructive? Should consumers throw out everything they own?

The most disappointing quote in the article belongs to Mike Walls, the director of government affairs at the American Chemistry Council. “The bottom line is that there isn’t widespread evidence that exposure to consumer products is causing public health problems,” said Walls. We wish he wouldn’t have waffled on the issue and instead said the truth: There’s NO evidence.

We realize this clip is old, but over the weekend ACSH staffers stumbled upon the CNN segment from November about trans fats. Dr. Elizabeth Whelan said her favorite part of the segment is when CNN mentions a survey that says 85% of Americans oppose bans on trans fats and other such foods. ACSH staffers are skeptical, though, of the estimated 500 lives that will be saved in a year because of the trans fats ban in New York City. We were also surprised to see former President Clinton speaking about trans fats, as though he were an expert. “How he spoke you’d think he was a lipid specialist,” Dr. Whelan noted.

Of course, trans fats are such juicy targets, no politician can resist attacking them ACSH’s Dr. Ruth Kava pointed out.

• From our family at ACSH to yours, we once again wish you a wonderful holiday season.

December 26, 2007: Vaccines and Tigers and Water Bottles, Oh My!

• Quote to Note: "BPA has been used in consumer products for over 50 years. In that time, there has been no evidence that BPA is harmful to humans, either as the result of dietary intake or industrial worker exposures." – the FDA.

• While 2007 may nearly be over, there are still submissions rolling in for “Quote of the Year.” Deirdre Imus, wife of radio talkshow host Don Imus and well-known anti-vaccine fear mongerer, posted a blog on the Huffington Post about New Jersey’s ACSH-supported decision to require all children to get a flu vaccine. She said: “New Jersey will go down in history as the first state in the nation… to order parents to vaccinate their children with a known developmental neurotoxin, which scientific research suggests is linked to autism.”

We wonder where Ms. Imus is getting her information. What “scientific research” does she have access to that no one else does? All evidence supports that there is no link between the MMR vaccine or thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism – and nearly all medical professionals will tell you this. We are disappointed that Ms. Imus claims to be “devoted” to childhood health and yet is spreading these falsehoods.

• Also in the running for “Quote of the Year” – the entire concept of the article in the Washington Post about the “danger” of polycarbonate containers, namely water bottles. Guess the Post hasn’t read our Top 10 Health Scares of 2007 where we explain how research has shown that the amounts of Bisphenol A (BPA) that may migrate into food and beverages from plastic containers are extremely small and are at acceptable limits that are set by regulatory agencies.

• By now most Americans have heard the sad news that an escaped tiger led to the mauling of a man in a California zoo. You can look up your risk of dying by mauling on our Riskometer. A tiger mauling falls under “accidental death.”

• By now ACSH staffers have learned that consumers believe “irradiation” is a dirty word. The connotations are scary and dangerous. It seems, though, that a recent move by the FDA will prove to encourage use of this safe, effective process of killing bacteria in food without scaring the public. The FDA has decided to relax its stance on food labeling and the label of “pasteurized” to appear on irradiated foods.

“Why didn’t we think of this before?” ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan asked. ACSH’s Dr. Ruth Kava pointed out that the process of irradiation and pasteurization is different, but “irradiated food” and “pasteurized food” are equivalent descriptors for the same end product.

• Tigers and water bottles and vaccinations aside, the most alarming news of the day for ACSH staffers was found in the New York Times front page story about Alzheimer’s disease. The article suggests that 40% of Americans will have Alzheimer’s by age 85, a jarring number.

“This is really, really sobering,” Dr. Whelan noted. It leaves the question, which comes first – medicine and a cure or early detection? ACSH staffers hope the emphasis is placed on finding effective early treatment. What’s the point of knowing early that you are going to be plagued with Alzheimer’s if you do not have access to effective treatment?

We were concerned with the implication in the Times that drug companies are “exploiting” this disease. Rather, we think they are very appropriately investing a lot of money and manpower to help alleviate the burden of Alzheimer’s in America.

• Also, tomorrow make sure to watch CNBC’s Squawk box at 7:20 a.m. where our own Jeff Stier will be discussing lead paint and toys and the idea that there’s “no safe level.”

December 27, 2007: Psychologically Scary, Nutritionally Wacky

• Quote to Note: "I'm not going to be the only one in the world who says I'll pull teeth from dead bodies." Funeral director Rick Allnutt, refusing to kowtow to health officials in Colorado who want him to either install a filter on his crematory’s smokestack or extract teeth of the deceased before cremation due to fears of mercury getting released in the environment.

• For the second day in a row we needed to rub our eyes when reading the New York Post: Once again, the paper quoted someone from the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology. Today, the claim was that at a New Jersey school, teachers of autistic children give birth to an “unusually high” number of autistic children themselves. Dr. Lawrence Rosen, medical advisor at the Deirdre Imus organization, refers to the school, St. Anthony’s, as having an “autism cluster” that’s due to an environmental problem.

This is absolutely preposterous. There’s another equally plausible (and equally preposterous!) explanation for this – autism is contagious! For an organization that’s supposedly focused on the wellbeing of children, we’re (again) saddened that it is honing in on an outrageous claim instead of putting effort into tracking down real causes and effective treatments for serious diseases like autism.

• Yesterday we received a holiday card drawn by ACSH donor James Wintersteen. While we don't get involved in the global warming issue- the card did give us a laugh.We encourage you to take a look! Mr. Wintersteen's card also came with a generous donation. Even if you can't send us an ACSH-esque card, you can still make a donation today. Help us end the year in a strong position, so we can continue addressing the issues you read about in each Morning Dispatch. Please call Judy at 866-905-2694 to make your donation right now. Happy Holidays!

• When it comes to battling outrageous claims, ACSH is at the forefront. In response to Dr. Elizabeth Whelan’s op ed in the Washington Times about the top health scares of the year, a loyal follower wrote high praise for ACSH.

“Dr. Whelan and the American Council on Science and Health have done more to ward off the phony claims of junk science in nutrition the environment, phony health and pandemic scares, inoculations and the proper and controlled use of pesticides than any other organization in the U.S.,” wrote Ruth King.

One of the biggest scares Dr. Whelan covered in the Times was the ban of phthalates in California. “The worst thing about this is that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is introducing this nationally,” ACSH’s Dr. Gil Ross said. Here at ACSH, we agree these fears are based on psychology not science. “It’s the fear of the unknown,” Dr. Whelan noted.

This morning we were joined by a Wall Street Journal reporter for an informal briefing, so we quickly got her up to speed on our take on the lead toys scares, another psychological issue. ACSH is a fairly small organization and we do not have the resources to take on every public health issue. But after four months of constant media coverage on toy recalls, ACSH’s Jeff Stier finally spoke out by writing an op ed in the New York Post last week. Still, we continue to see inaccuracies in how the issue is covered – for instance, in today’s Wall Street Journal a reporter warns that a commercial home lead testing kit only tests the surface of toys or household products and do not account for lead that may be embedded. We ask: How is a child going to consume lead underneath the surface of a large toy?

• In the wake of yesterday’s anti-vaccine comments from Deirdre Imus, we feel obligated to point out the return of whooping cough. Are we having a resurgence because of parents who fear vaccines and refuse to inoculate their children?

• As New Years is around the corner and “Eat Healthier” tops most resolution lists, we’re not surprised to see another diet trend. This time, it’s the “Hallelujah Diet,” where dieters eat like Adam and Eve. Basically, we all become vegans, as no animal-derived foods are allowed and only 15 percent of vegetables are to be cooked. The scariest thing for us about this diet is that on the associated website there’s a list of diseases and instructions of how to eat for each particular one. “We make fun of this,” Dr. Whelan pointed out, “But can you imagine people who take this seriously?”

December 28, 2007: Student Health VS Privacy; Onerous Blood Donation Rules

• Quote to Note: "It's precarious. You never know when you're going to be the person who needs that next transfusion." – Dr. Richard Drachtman on the blood supply.

• When it comes to medical privacy, the topic is often a sticky one. At Cornell University, administrators are breaking the code of confidentiality in the name of lowering suicide rates and improving the mental health of its students (subscription required). In addition to the university’s “alert team” of administrators, counselors and campus police, janitors are also being asked to take notes on students’ behaviors. In one anecdote, a janitor identified a girl’s eating disorder; the girl was referred to a counselor. Although this story has a happy ending, ACSH staffers are skeptical of the practice.

“It’s a touchy subject,” said ACSH’s Dr. Gil Ross. “If students no longer have the expectation of confidentiality, they will no longer feel free to divulge dangerous behaviors to their caregivers. And what sort of ‘training’ can housekeeping staff be given to make them helpful in spying on students – even in the name of helping them? I see more of a downside than an upside to this.” First, there’s the invasion of privacy. And to what extent will janitors tell administrators about students’ eating habits? Finally, we wonder about the parents – when are they brought into the loop about their child’s mental health? We foresee mass hysteria.

• Once again there’s the perennial winter shortage of blood. Waiting in line to donate blood yesterday evening, a thought struck ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan – Why does the process for getting approved have to be so burdensome? We went around the table and realized about half of us have been turned down (“deferred”) at one point or another. (Yesterday phlebotomists needed to take out a map to find Ushuaia, a city in Argentina Dr. Whelan recently visited).

We realize that it’s important to screen out “bad” blood donations, and that’s the reason for the rigorous questionnaires. But is it worth it? Even vegetarians who have lived in London for a few months and are in perfect health can get “rejected” as blood donors, simply because of Britain’s past problems with Mad Cow Disease. With frequent blood shortages, we wonder if donating blood shouldn’t become easier – or be replaced by a future invention of man-made blood.

• We hope all of you have a wonderful weekend and a happy (and healthy!) new year. There will be no Morning Dispatch on Monday or Tuesday, but look forward to hearing from us again in 2008!

Corrie Driebusch is an ACSH research intern. Receive these dispatches each workday in your e-mail by becoming an ACSH donor -- donate here, send a tax-deductible donation to the Broadway address at the bottom of this site, or call (212-362-7044 x225) or e-mail DriebuschC[at]