Cancer, retinyl palmitate and triclosan, oh my!

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As ACSH is preparing to release its new publication Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health, we were not so surprised to read about three new stories linking chemicals to a multitude of adverse health effects — which is what sadly seems to be a media-fueled national trend these days.

The first comes from mom Christine Brouwer who told a telephone news conference following the death of her four-year-old daughter due to a brain tumor that, “There’s growing evidence linking toxic chemicals and carcinogens in the environment with childhood cancer.” Questioning why her child died prematurely, Ms. Brouwer says she believes that the cleaning fluids used to clean the floors babies crawl on, the plastic used in the cups they drink from and some of the foods families eat are to blame for the growing incidence of childhood cancer.

Though there might be a slight increase in the rate of childhood cancers, ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross reminds us that this rise is actually very modest, and definitely does not qualify as a national epidemic.

ACSH’s Jody Manley believes that this is a case of “a distraught mother looking for some reason for her personal tragedy to make sense, but most babies crawl on the floor and use plastic sippy cups, so why aren’t more children dying?”

Adding insult to injury, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) announced Wednesday that retinyl palmitate, a common sunscreen additive and vitamin A derivative, hastens the development of skin tumors and lesions in ultraviolet light, a component of sunlight.

The data, however, was based on a study conducted by the National Toxicology Program, which only tested the additive on animals, yet extrapolated these results to humans. This reminds ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan of a previous ACSH publication that addressed the question: Are rodent carcinogens predictive of human cancer risk? “The answer is a resounding NO! Almost every story we address is based on this faulty extrapolation,” she adds.

“Why this group is delving into sunscreen is beyond me. They should leave the task of public health and medicine to people who actually know what they’re talking about,“ adds ACSH's Dr. Josh Bloom. “Maybe they’ve been out in the sun too long.”

Finally, the folks at Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Food and Water Watch, along with other environmental activist groups, are urging people to sign a petition requiring the EPA to ban the use of triclosan, a commonly-used antibacterial chemical found in products like soaps and toothpaste. Why would these groups want to ban a compound that has effectively reduced and controlled bacterial contamination? Because they claim it has been linked to endocrine disruption and dioxin contamination.

Though triclosan may have been previously implicated in antibacterial resistance, the accusations that it causes serious health and environmental problems are just ridiculous, says Dr. Whelan. “Every day you hear about something new that’s posing a danger to our health — this fear-mongering just never stops. Apparently, everything is a threat, and nothing is immune to these ludicrous charges.”