The Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2008

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The core mission of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) since its founding in 1978 has been to counter misleading and alarmist health news in print, broadcast, and online media. In a classic ACSH publication, Facts Versus Fears: A Review of the Greatest Unfounded Health Scares of Recent Times, ACSH evaluated 27 of the greatest health scares of modern times, reviewing the basis of each, describing their presentation in the media, and presenting scientifically accurate information on each topic. Our current publication, The Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2008, is organized along similar lines.

Unfortunately, old scares seem neither to die nor to fade away some of the ones that garnered media attention in 2008 are replays of earlier scares with new twists. Once again we see alarmist groups exploiting the understandable desire of parents to protect their children by trumpeting hyperbole about the supposed dangers in toys, baby bottles, and sippy cups. But these fears are based on finding trace amounts of theoretically toxic chemicals in these items and completely ignore the toxicological principle that it s the dose that makes the poison.

Some of the scares in the following list are based on incomplete research that is, on studies presented at scientific meetings rather than on published articles in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Thus, their findings are subject to revision and surely should not be taken as the final word on a subject. Further, there is a tendency to see the finding of a correlation between the presence of a substance and a negative health outcome to mean the substance causes the outcome. But as we have explained, this is not necessarily true.

Yet another fallacy is to assume that the results of rodent studies can be directly applied to humans, which is not true, as ACSH has repeatedly explained.

The following list of scares is meant to reassure Americans that our health and well-being, and that of our children, is not really under attack by insidious exposures to disease-causing chemicals.

1. Phthalates pose health threat to children

The (Unfounded) Scare: Phthalates, a group of chemicals often found in rubber ducks and other soft plastic toys, leach out into the mouths of children, posing risks to their health. Phthalates are added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as a softener for plastic items such as rubber ducks, pacifiers, shower curtains, intravenous medical tubing, examination gloves, catheters, and blood storage bags. They are also used in nail polish, perfumes, hairspray, and certain baby lotions and shampoos.

Origin of the Scare: Concerns over phthalates and human health have been around for about a decade, but the scare recently resurfaced with force after activist groups publicized their dangerous presence in children s products, including baby lotions, baby shampoos, plastic toys, and, most notoriously, rubber duckies. The scare has since been expanded to include many other products, from shower curtains to hairspray.

California was the first state to ban the use of the chemicals, but this year the U.S. Congress passed a nationwide ban on six types of phthalates. The ban will go into effect on February 10, 2009.

Media Coverage: This year s inflammatory media coverage of the phthalate scare began with articles such as Babies absorb phthalates from baby products from Reuters. It eventually expanded to target other dangerous products as well. For example, the New York Daily News reported Shower curtains could mean curtains for you, says watchdog group, while ABC News published the story Hairspray Link to Genital Birth Defects. Despite the nationwide ban, the media continues to promulgate the scare with stories such as Some Toys With Banned Plastics Will Stay on Market in the Washington Post.

ACSH s Perspective: ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan published an op-ed in the Washington Times about the insidious nature of health scares meant to frighten parents about their children s health such as the one aimed at phthalates in baby products. She wrote, There is no evidence whatsoever not even a hint of health problems from phthalates in any consumer products used by children or adults. ¦.The claimed health risk is totally bogus, based exclusively on results of high-dose rodent experiments.

For an overview of the phthalate scare and the science it ignores, see ACSH advisor Dr. Michael Kamrin s post on Facts and Fears, Phthalates: An Overview.

The Bottom Line: Phthalates have not been shown to be harmful to humans at low-level exposure only to rats at high exposures. They are extremely useful chemicals that are found in a wide range of everyday consumer goods and any replacement chemical will not have been as thoroughly studied and may pose actual health risks.

With that being said, it is no surprise that many members of the general population have detectable amounts of phthalates in their blood. The important issue to stress is that the presence of a chemical does not necessarily mean that it is harmful after all, it is the dose that makes the poison.

2. Bisphenol-A linked to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes just to name a few

The (Unfounded) Scare: Bisphenol-A (BPA), a common component of hard plastics, causes cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and myriad other health problems. BPA can be found in many polycarbonate products such as baby bottles, water bottles, sippy cups, soda can liners, and many others.

Origin of the Scare: Last year, certain animal studies inspired some activists groups to claim BPA exposure was linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, and reproductive problems. In 2008, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found an association between elevated levels of BPA in adult urine samples and the subjects risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Media Coverage: Even before the JAMA study allegedly linked BPA to heart disease and diabetes, Nalgene decided to stop using BPA to make its polycarbonate water bottles. As Hillary Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Hudson s Bay Company, said, Consumer demand for BPA products had largely dried up. In October, Canada finalized its decision to ban BPA in baby bottles.

The JAMA study resulted in many inflammatory news articles and ultimately inspired several U.S. states to request that manufacturers stop using the chemical in baby products. Despite the fact that the study did not prove causation, Patricia Hunt, a professor at Washington State University s School of Molecular Biosciences, said, This is the smoking gun ¦.We can t afford to wait any longer [to ban BPA]. Shortly after, a scare sprung up about BPA in dental sealants.

While the FDA initially remained strong in its defense of BPA in the wake of the JAMA study, it eventually organized an advisory panel that determined the chemical s safety should be examined further. Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro said that the panel s findings showed how poorly the agency has handled its review of BPA.

ACSH s Perspective: ACSH initially weighed in on the BPA scare with a publication entitled The Facts About Bisphenol-A. We concluded, There is no need for concern about the current, very low levels of human exposure to bisphenol-A from plastic bottles and other consumer products.

As the scare continued to pick up steam, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times called Plastic Hysteria Strikes Again. In it he argued, This new scare is part and parcel of the back to nature school of public health. There is no substance to the dogma promulgated by technophobes that natural is good, synthetic is bad.

ACSH advisor Dr. Michael Kamrin offered his Critique of JAMA article on BPA on Facts and Fears, writing, [the JAMA] article fails to provide persuasive evidence to support the contention that BPA at any dose causes adverse effects in humans.

The Bottom Line: While there is no scientific evidence that BPA causes human health problems at the low levels we are exposed to every day, the future of the chemical does not look good because the scare has fueled consumer demand for products that do not contain BPA. But as with phthalates, any replacement chemical will not have been as thoroughly studied and scrutinized as BPA has been, which may result in actual safety issues in the future.

3. Cell phones cause brain cancer

The (Unfounded) Scare: Long-term use of cell phones may cause brain cancer because the devices emit low levels of radio waves. People, especially children, should limit their cell phone use, and wireless headsets should be used to prevent contact between the phone and the head.

Origin of the Scare: While health scares about cell phones circulate every so often, this one was started by Dr. Robert B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. In July, he circulated a memo among his colleagues warning them to limit their exposure to cell phones because they may cause brain cancer. It inspired a flurry of attention, even though his claim was based on unpublished (and, therefore, not-yet-peer-reviewed) research.

Media Coverage: In the post Cancer Doc Tells Colleagues to Lay Off Cell Phones, the Wall Street Journal s Health Blog reported that Dr. Herberman told the Associated Press, Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later. ABC News covered the story in an article entitled New Warning: Cell Phone Use and Cancer?

Fortunately, the public also heard the voices of scientists who were critical of Dr. Herberman s claims. The Cancer Letter published an article quoting Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, as saying, Scaring the nation based on early unpublished data that can't be examined by the entire medical and scientific community is generally not a good idea.

ACSH s Perspective: Dr. Herberman s claims linking cell phone use to brain cancer epitomize a health scare supported by junk science. We at ACSH understand that according to the laws of physics, the low level radio waves emitted by cell phones are not capable of causing harm to humans. It was irresponsible for a respected medical doctor to make such baseless claims. As ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross said in July 24 s Morning Dispatch, I was amazed to read that a physician made this warning, considering that there is no scientific evidence to back it up.

The Bottom Line: Cell phones do not pose any danger to human health. While higher energy radio waves can damage tissue by heating, the low energy ones emitted by cell phones are incapable of causing the same type of harm. It was irresponsible of Dr. Herberman to encourage this scare based only on early unpublished data.

4. Coffee shrinks breasts

The (Unfounded) Scare: Drinking three or more cups of coffee a day will cause a woman s breasts to shrink but may help lower her risk of breast cancer.

Origin of the Scare: Researchers from Sweden s Lund University surveyed about 300 women about their bust measurements and their average daily coffee consumption. They claimed to find a clear link between drinking coffee and having smaller breasts, with the effect starting at three cups of coffee a day and increasing for every additional cup consumed daily. They also alleged that regular caffeine consumption might reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Media Coverage: Fox News picked up the story under the headline Study: 3 Cups of Coffee a Day May Shrink Women s Breasts. The article quoted Helena Jernström, a lecturer in experimental oncology at Lund University, as saying, Coffee-drinking women do not have to worry their breasts will shrink to nothing overnight. They will get smaller, but the breasts aren t just going to disappear.

The study was clarified somewhat in the McGill Daily a college newspaper with limited circulation, unfortunately. The author explains, an increased intake of caffeinated coffee in young women who are not on birth control, but are carriers of the alternative gene variation of CYP1A2 for an enzyme that metabolizes both caffeine and estrogen, have exhibited smaller breast size. But this makes for a less snappy headline.

She also includes a less-inflammatory quote from Jernström: [W]e don t yet know whether coffee actually shrinks the breasts or if these women had smaller breasts anyway ¦.It is too early to draw any conclusions.

ACSH s Perspective: We covered this scare in October 24 s Morning Dispatch and found it so absurd that we gave it ACSH s first Bust Award. ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan called it a perfect example of junk reporting fueled by science. ACSH s Jeff Stier agreed, adding Usually a story like this includes one reasonable voice questioning the study s results, but not this one (referring to the Fox News article).

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava pointed out what Jernström only explained in her less-publicized interview: There s no way researchers could have found a causal link from the way the study was conducted, she said.

The Bottom Line: While coffee is an easy target for health scares, there is no evidence that it has any effect on either breast size or the risk of developing breast cancer.

5. Toxic bras attack!

The (Unfounded) Scare: Victoria s Secret bras contain formaldehyde, which can cause a painful rash on the skin exposed to the bra. The rash burns, itches, and can even cause permanent scarring.

The Origin of the Scare: A woman named Roberta Ritter filed a lawsuit against Victoria s Secret after allegedly developing a rash from the company s Angel s Secret Embrace and Very Sexy Extreme Me Push-Up bras.

Her lawyers had the same bra types tested at a lab and discovered that they contained the chemical formaldehyde, which some women may be allergic to. Formaldehyde resin is sometimes used in clothes to keep them wrinkle-free. Fox News reported that many other women contacted them about similar skin reactions to the bras and that paperwork for a class-action lawsuit has been filed.

Media Coverage: CBS covered the story in the article Victoria s Secret Customer Sues Over Bra Rash. The reporter interviewed Ritter and several other women who claimed to have developed rashes after wearing the bras about what she called a secret that ¦women need to know.

In the article Lawsuit Claims Victoria s Secret Bras Cause Rashes, Hives, Fox News needlessly pointed out that formaldehyde is a chemical used in embalming.

Victoria s Secret issued the statement, We are sorry that a small number of people have had an issue and we want to help them determine the cause. Customer safety and satisfaction are always our primary concerns and we take seriously any issues our customers may have with our products. CBS also reported that the company maintained it did not use formaldehyde in its bras.

ACSH s Perspective: In November 12 s Morning Dispatch, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan said she found the fact that Ritter and her lawyers had the bras tested to be unbelievable in and of itself. She also took issue with the inflammatory description of formaldehyde.

The Bottom Line: While it is possible that the Victoria s Secret bras contain formaldehyde resin (as many clothes do), the company should not be held responsible for some women s allergic reactions. We hope this ridiculous lawsuit doesn t make it past the judge who is set to rule in May 2009 on whether the case can go forward.

6. Pharmaceuticals can be found in our drinking water

The (Unfounded) Scare: The drinking water supplied to at least 41 million Americans is contaminated with traces of a wide variety of pharmaceuticals. Because the federal government does not regulate trace levels of drugs found in water, no safe level has been established. In fact, many providers do not even test their water supplies for pharmaceuticals.

Origin of the Scare: The Associated Press released a report documenting the antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones its investigation found in drinking water supplies. The report implicated the water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas, as well as some rural wells and even bottled water, as containing trace levels of pharmaceuticals. The scare was later expanded to include the water supplies of 46 million Americans.

Media Coverage: Many news outlets especially those in the areas singled out as having contaminated water supplies jumped on the AP report in following days. The Washington Post ran the story Area Tap Water Has Traces of Medicines and only quoted skeptical scientists in the follow-up article Hearings on Tap Water Planned.

MSNBC ran perhaps the most inflammatory headline: Tainted drinking water kept under wraps, which implied the existence of a cover-up and damaged the credibility of water providers and scientists skeptical of the supposed danger posed by the tainted drinking water. Many of the quotes it included, however, were quite reasonable such as this one from Elaine Archibald, executive director of California Urban Water Agencies: [many customers] don t know how to interpret the information. They hear something has been detected in source water and drinking water, and that s cause for alarm just because it s there.

The New York Times Lede Blog provided a slightly more rational perspective, writing But how bad is it, exactly? The answers range in degrees of confidence and alarm, though no one was ready to predict imminent doom.

ACSH s Perspective: We at ACSH are very firm believers in the idea that the dose makes the poison. As ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross pointed out in September 12 s Morning Dispatch, If we test down to parts per trillion or less, either in the human body or in the environment, we can find anything we look for. Just because we can find minute traces of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water doesn t mean they pose a health threat.

The Bottom Line: No negative health effects have ever been observed as the result of trace levels of pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies. New technology allows us to find minute levels of scary-sounding chemicals in many substances we come in contact with every day, but such small amounts do not pose a health risk. Remember, the dose makes the poison!

7. Toxic toys remain on shelves through the holiday season

The (Unfounded) Scare: Because stricter regulations on lead and phthalate levels in toys will not be imposed until February of 2009, toys being sold during this holiday season pose a health threat to children.

The Origin of the Scare: A group called the Ecology Center tested more than 1,500 toys for lead, cadmium, arsenic, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals. It claimed to have found that one-third of the toys contained medium or high levels of one or more of those chemicals and posted its report on the website

While a variation of this scare occurs nearly every holiday season, this year s was fueled by the fact that new regulations on phthalates and lead will not go into effect until February 10, 2009 which allowed anti-chemical activists to label some current toys as illegal and toxic.

The new regulations also inspired the Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for planning to allow toys manufactured before February 10, 2009 to continue to be sold after that cut-off date. New York City Councilman Eric Gioia also jumped on the toxic toys bandwagon, calling on retailers to remove all toys that don t comply with the new regulations from their shelves in time for the holiday shopping season.

Media Coverage: While CNN Money declared, One in 3 toys is toxic, group says, the Associated Press provided readers with the marginally less inflammatory headline Fewer toxic toys on shelves this year. In a press release, the Ecology Center s Jeff Gearhart said, Our hope is that by empowering consumers with this information, manufacturers and lawmakers will feel the pressure to start phasing out the most harmful substances immediately, and to change the nation s laws to protect children from highly toxic chemicals.

The AP quoted officials of the Toy Industry Association as questioning the report and the tests it employed. Vice president of standards and regulatory affairs Joan Lawrence, for example, called the report misleading to consumers and explained, They [the Ecology Center] use the XRF technology that is at best recognized by the federal government as a screening tool it is not a test ¦.They used a short cut that is an incomplete picture.

ACSH s Perspective: We are amazed the unfounded scare about toxic toys during the holiday season continues to get attention year after year. The toxic terrorists know exactly how to time these stories to get themselves at the top of the news, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan said in December 4 s Morning Dispatch. It doesn t matter that these scares have no relation whatsoever to science, health, medicine, or even commonsense.

She also reminded us that even when parents and the media were panicking over lead-contaminated toys from China, no child was ever hurt. It is pure scare tactics based on the fact that the lead levels were higher than the extremely conservative guidelines.

In December 5 s Morning Dispatch, Cheryl Martin made the important point, I don t understand all this uproar about toys we grew up with much less regulation, and no child was ever poisoned by their toys.

Jeff Stier wrote a New York Post op-ed entitled Toxic Toys: False Alarm about a similar scare last year. He maintained, Toys must be safe but forcing the CPSC to apply unreasonable standards based on junk science claims promotes only panic, not safety.

The Bottom Line: The uproar over toxic toys is based on a regulatory issue and not a true safety concern. As technology improves, we can detect lower and lower levels of chemicals in toys and many other consumer products. But government safety standards are already set well below the levels at which some of these chemicals may become harmful, so scaring parents over highly toxic toys is ridiculous.

8. Vaccines cause autism

The (Unfounded) Scare: Childhood vaccines can lead to autism because they contain toxins, such as the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal (which was eliminated from most childhood vaccines in 2001, an action that has not led to a decline in autism cases). Many alarmists, including the actress Jenny McCarthy, are still attempting to scare parents out of having their children vaccinated.

Origin of the Scare: The alleged link between vaccines and autism was first posited in the now discredited Wakefield study, which was published in the Lancet in 1998. For the past ten years, it has been what ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross called an evergreen scare. This year, the scare caught fire again after a federal court awarded damages to nine-year-old Hannah Poling because it found that vaccines worsened her underlying cellular disorder and ultimately led to autism-like symptoms.

While Jenny McCarthy has long been outspoken about the dangers of vaccines, fellow actress Amanada Peet joined the other side of the fight this year by becoming a spokesperson for the pro-vaccine group Every Child by Two.Measles outbreaks in England, the U.S. , and Gibraltar brought the threat of declining childhood vaccination rates into focus.

Media Coverage: The Hannah Poling case reignited the controversy surrounding vaccines and inspired extensive media coverage, including a feature in Time magazine called Case Study: Autism and Vaccines.

Paul A. Offit, chief of the infectious diseases division of the Children s Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote an op-ed entitled Inoculated Against Facts in the New York Times explaining the legal workings of the vaccine court and arguing that in light of the Poling decision, Parents may now worry about vaccinating their children, more autism research money may be steered toward vaccines and away from more promising leads and, if similar awards are made in state courts, pharmaceutical companies may abandon vaccines for American children. In the name of trying to help children with autism, the Poling decision has only hurt them.

Dr. Offit s op-ed inspired Hannah s parents, Jon and Terry Poling, to respond via a letter to the New York Times. They wrote, We support a safe vaccination program against critical infectious diseases. We need straight facts, serious science and speedy answers on these important issues. The two parties had a similar debate in the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Amanda Peet drew some fire when she called parents who choose not to vaccinate their children parasites. She weathered the storm, however, and remains an effective pro-vaccine spokesperson. She and Dr. Offit were recently interviewed in the NPR story Defending Vaccines: Actress Dispels Link to Autism.

Meanwhile, the CDC did not hesitate to blame parents who hadn t vaccinated their children for 2008 s increase in measles cases in the U.S. In an editorial the New York Times stated that the outbreak was due to parents misguided fears of vaccinations and made the important point, If confidence in all vaccines were to drop precipitously, many diseases would re-emerge and cause far more harm than could possibly result from vaccination.

ACSH s Perspective: ACSH scientists have spoken out about the safety and the health benefits of vaccines for many years. In 2003, we published the informative brochure What s the Story? Childhood Immunizations, and in 2004, Dr. Ross explained the history of the scare in the article Vaccines-Autism: The Scare That Won t Die.

In October of this year, Dr. Ross appeared on the show Hofstra Morning Wake Up Call on the radio station WRHU to discuss the scare and, particularly, Jenny McCarthy s role in it. While it is unfortunate that she has an autistic child, Jenny McCarthy is not a scientist. Vaccines are safe, he said. In October 2 s Morning Dispatch, he pointed out that McCarthy is using her autistic son to sell her book, which he termed a tragic exploitation resulting in innocent children suffering the effects of inadequate vaccine protection.

For more on the problems with celebrities including Jenny McCarthy speaking out inappropriately about scientific issues, see ACSH s 2008 publication Celebrities Vs. Science.

The Bottom Line: Not only are childhood vaccines safe, they are necessary to protect both individual children and the larger population from dangerous diseases. Despite the ever-present nature of this scare, parents should trust their children s pediatricians and comply with the recommendation that every child be fully vaccinated by the age of two.

9. Dioxins found in Irish pork

The (Unfounded) Scare: Pork from Ireland is contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins, chlorinated chemicals that can be poisonous to humans (in very high doses).

The Origin of the Scare: Pork from 10 pig farms in the Republic of Ireland and nine in Northern Ireland was found to contain elevated levels of dioxins. The Irish government quickly recalled all pork products from pigs slaughtered in its country at the beginning of December. The farms with contaminated pork were all sold pig feed by the Irish company Millstream Power Recycling, and the Irish police, along with the country s Department of Agriculture, are currently investigating the link.

Media Coverage: The Irish Times stoked the scare with the article Dioxins remain in body fat for many decades, although its medical correspondent, Dr. Muiris Houston, did admit, At a practical level, the risk to the health of any individual who has consumed dioxin contaminated pork products is very low. He explained the recall was based on the theoretical risk possibly associated with long-term exposure to dioxins.

Reuters was not much better, printing the scare-mongering headline Tainted Irish Pork May Have Reached 25 Nations." CNN took the opportunity to review several recent food scares in the article Dioxins join food scare menu, as well as hyperbolically stating, Irish police probe contaminated pork scare.

ACSH s Perspective: In December 9 s Morning Dispatch, Dr. Gilbert Ross said, The levels of dioxins they [the Irish government] are worried about are too low to have any negative health effects. This sort of food contamination should not be confused with salmonella or E. coli, which are bugs that can do real harm and even kill. This, on the other hand, is just a scare based on an arbitrary regulatory guideline.

The Bottom Line: The levels of dioxins found in some Irish pork products are too low to have any negative effect on human health. Food contamination regulations tend to be very conservative and set well below the level at which a chemical could actually become toxic to humans who consume it.

10. Granite countertops emit radiation

The (Unfounded) Scare: Granite countertops contain radioactive materials, such as isotopes of uranium and thorium and as a result, some of them emit elevated levels of radon gas, a source of radiation that can cause lung cancer.

Origin of the Scare: In July, the New York Times published an article asserting that the EPA was receiving more complaints than ever about granite countertops emitting elevated levels of radiation. The author opened with an anecdote about a homeowner who had her countertops tested for radiation and had them ripped out that very day. Several others news outlets picked up the story, inspiring a rush of homeowners to have their own countertops tested.

Media Coverage: The initial New York Times article was called What s Lurking in Your Countertop? It quoted Lou Witt, a program analyst with the EPA s Indoor Environments Division, as saying There is no known safe level of radon or radiation ¦.[scientists agree that] any exposure increases your health risk. The Marble Institute of America called claims about the danger posed by granite countertops ludicrous.

CBS News picked up the scare with the story Granite Countertops a Health Threat? ABC News gave more space to voices devoted to debunking the scare but, unfortunately, it did so under the inflammatory headline Cause for Worry? Granite Fears Grip Homeowners. It quoted a statement by Jim Hogan, president of the Marble Institute of America saying, Repeated studies have found that granite is safe. Unfortunately, some recent junk science being reported as fact only serves to panic the public, not inform it. Senior scientist for the Specialists in Energy, Nuclear and Environmental Sciences Center for Risk Analysis David Kocher affirmed, There are people out there who will worry about almost anything ¦.the truth of the matter is that radiation is not a very potent cause of cancer as far as we know.

The scare was covered throughout the summer and reappeared in the fall in a Today Show segment entitled How safe are your countertops?

ACSH s Perspective: The granite countertops scare reinforced our belief that it is growing more and more common for the media to highlight health scare stories with no scientific basis as a way of attracting attention in a crowded media market. ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan reacted to the Today Show story in September 4 s Morning Dispatch, saying, There was nothing constructive about this segment. They were still trying to scare viewers even though they had to admit several times throughout the story that there is no evidence the radiation emitted by some countertops is actually dangerous.

After the scare first broke over the summer, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross joked in July 24 s Morning Dispatch, As long as you don t sleep on your granite countertop, I think you re okay especially since ACSH disproved the myth that even the slightest exposure to radiation increases your health risk in our 2006 brochure What s the Story? Health Effects of Low-Level Radiation.

The Bottom Line: While granite countertops may contain traces of radioactive substances, such as uranium, the low level of radiation they may emit does not pose a health threat. Homeowners should not spend money on unnecessary tests or bother having their granite countertops replaced.