Kristof frightened of his couch but maybe he should be on it

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Just last week, we observed that ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom is about as qualified to write about Ming Dynasty ceramics as The New York Times Nicholas Kristof is to explain the nuances of chemistry which is to say, not at all. Yet Kristof insists on writing about topics that lie far outside his area of expertise, and this week he s at it again, explaining in a Times column why we should all be scared of the flame retardants in our couches.

Inspired by a Chicago Tribune investigative series, Kristof explains how the push to use flame retardants in furniture was initially driven by the tobacco industry after concerns were raised that cigarettes were causing fires in the home. He goes on to posit that corporate interests, led by Big Chem, have superseded public health concerns when it comes to assessing flame retardants. According to Kristof, flame retardants end up in the dust that children playing on the floor can ingest, allegedly leading to adverse health effects, and can harm brain development in a fetus if a pregnant woman is exposed. Kristof then throws in every anti-chemical activist s favorite word: endocrine disruptors." He warns that not only do flame retardants fit into this ambiguous category, but that they are similar to PCBs, which (he reminds readers) are just as dangerous.

Making sure to end on a high note, Kristof concludes by telling his readers, Your home is filled with toxic flame retardants that serve no higher purpose than enriching three [chemical manufacturing] companies.

So, should we all avoid sitting on our couches at all costs, for fear of the chemicals that lurk within? Absolutely not, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. Kristof just loves the term endocrine disruptors,' but I d bet he has no idea what it means, she observes. He insists that we re surrounded by chemicals that are dangerous because they haven t all been fully tested. But in truth, we re surrounded by chemicals that are considered natural too, and these haven t been tested either. Yet we don t see anyone complaining about those.

Dr. Whelan also points out that nowhere in the literature has it been shown that trace levels of chemicals have any impact whatsoever on cancer trends. Kristof is essentially making the point that it s dangerous to sit on a couch, she says. But isn t being afraid of everything around you a sign of paranoia?

It s more agenda-pushing than paranoia, says Dr. Bloom, whose recent op-ed in Medical Progress Today discusses how Kristof s misinterpretations of chemistry and toxicology are misleading the American public.

And, of course, check out ACSH s publication on the topic: Brominated Flame Retardants, by William Kucewicz. You ll learn how flame retardants have saved lives without posing health risks to consumers.