Be very afraid of flame-retardants: NY Times blog. Why? They don t (can't) say.

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Flame RetardantsAnother in the very long line of toxic terrors comes your way in today s Science section of the paper of record, the New York Times. One of their favorites from their stable of scaremongers, Deborah Blum (writing, quite appropriately, in her Poison Pen blog), has taken the trouble to warn us, again, about the omnipresence of [insert the word toxic here as needed] flame retardants and the threat they present to our health and well-being.

Oh wait! She does not in fact describe the actual threat to our health etc., but she avoids having to actually advise the reader of the dearth of such evidence by utilizing the technique of distraction, so beloved by alarmist writers to scare us about possible risks and alleged harms. She initially describes studies which have indeed shown the presence of certain flame retardant chemicals in our bodies. As supported by the clever title of her piece, Flame Retardants Are Everywhere, with our powerful analytical tools, it is possible to find tiny levels of just about anything in everyone. Seeking (and finding) substances in our bodies that may, or may not, present a real risk is called Biomonitoring. The process of finding trace levels of something-or-other does not mean that it is harmful, a fact that Ms. Blum (and others of her ilk) reliably forget to mention when they give us the frightful stats about how many of us have whatever in our blood, urine or breast milk.

Here is her actual allusion to the severe risks flame-retardants have been shown to manifest:

Various formulations of flame retardants are linked to a variety of possible health effects, all still under study. Some seem to be fairly benign, but others are suspected carcinogens. Some appear to interfere with the normal operation of hormones, notably thyroid hormones, while some, such as PBDEs, appear to affect brain development. But to understand and measure these health risks, researchers first must figure out the extent of the contamination in the environment.

Note: the first link takes us to a study of 25 pregnant women in California in 2008. The second is from a recent report that found a link between a 10-fold increase in PBDEs (a class of flame retardants consisting of several different chemicals) and a 4-point lower IQ level among 300 five-year-olds (there is nothing in this study to point to the PBDEs themselves as a causative factor, as numerous other environmental and genetic factors were either not studied or not reported). One more thing: again, the author slips almost unnoticed from her brave but failed attempt to support her toxicity allegations, to correlating measurements of the chemicals with health risks.

These are some other of Ms. Blum s contributions to the Times scientific output:

The Trouble With Rice (about arsenic in rice); A Threat to Male Fertility (from PVC plastics); and Parabens in Our Lotions and Shampoo (nuff said).

ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross had this comment: Apparently, while Nick Kristof is away, Deborah Blum has to carry the mantle of chemophobic fearmongering at the Times. For the large majority of Times readers, she is doing a wonderful job: I know I was on the verge of being very afraid (glancing at the comments clearly shows that her readers think she was way too kind). Of course, she s no Kristof, whose Toxic Hot Seat on HBO and in the Times was a paradigm of effective anti-chemical propaganda. However, what these people fail to recognize is that flame retardants serve a very important purpose, which is why they ARE everywhere. Blum makes it seem that the fact that they are actually in your home is somehow incriminating. I don t know about her, but I d be very glad to have flame retardants in my home in the event of a fire!