EPA s Jackson is short, sweet & precautionary

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In a short but punchy letter in Sunday’s USA Today, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson lauds the newspaper for its January 14 coverage of a so-called research study which actually just recycled old CDC biomonitoring data to show that pregnant women have dozens of chemicals in their bodies — at trace levels.

Ms. Jackson commends the publication for pointing out that environmental chemicals are not just a concern for adults, but “also could pose major risks to children and unborn babies.” She adds, “The health of the American people is EPA’s first priority, and under my watch, reducing people’s exposure to toxins is a priority.”

As our readers may recall, ACSH already pointed out that the figures were below those deemed a health threat — even by our ultra-conservative EPA. They also had long been common knowledge. But because the authors put the word “pregnant” into the headlines, they pandered to the most hysterical and sensationalistic impulses in the media and got Ms. Jackson’s attention.

In her letter, Ms. Jackson mentions the need to revamp the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, saying, “This 35-year-old law is insufficient for managing exposure to chemicals in the products and environment of the 21st century.”

Contrary to what Ms. Jackson believes, simply being exposed to a chemical is not cause for alarm — the substance must first be proven to actually pose a risk to health at such low levels, says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Risk is determined by taking both exposure and hazard into account. By exclusively focusing on exposure, Ms. Jackson is dealing with just one side of the equation. Her definition of toxins is very fluid, and since her main concern is simply exposure, it must be her belief that everything is a toxin. In her succinct letter, all she does is continue to promote the precautionary principle and needlessly scare people about nonexistent health threats.”