Dr. Joe Schwarcz The Right Chemistry on Teflon and related chemicals

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We have lavished well-deserved praise on McGill University s Dr. Joe Schwarcz on several occasions over the years. Unlike many of his science-y colleagues whose news media megaphones take the sensationalist, sky is falling approach to trace levels of anything in the environment, he usually presents a voice of reason amidst the clamor.

So it was in his column in a recent posting to the Montreal Gazette, where he has a regular gig (The Right Chemistry), entitled Don t Worry About Teflon Pans. Apparently, even though the concern about the fluorinated chemical PFOA was debunked almost a decade ago (see ACSH s publication here), and even though the amount of PFOA that was present in the finished products was always undetectable, some folks somewhere remained fearful of toxic contamination by this ephemera. So Dr. Joe went to great lengths to explain why they should try to find something else to worry about. Will his simple yet science-based explanation soothe the fears of the worried? Probably not, but good try, Dr. Joe we applaud the effort nonetheless!

Well, if Dr. Joe is a voice of reason in the chemophobic media cacophony, his opposite is surely Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). She has never encountered a safe chemical, and in essence is the congressional voice of anti-science groups such as NRDC and EWG (and especially the latter s spin-off, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, whose very name is laughable given the safety record of cosmetics over the years). In a sort-of response to a series of articles in the New York Times exposing oppressive labor practices in New York City s plethora of nail salons, she managed to detect a health risk from toxic chemicals, especially formaldehyde. In her letter to the editor on Sunday, she wrote:

The need for a comprehensive review of chemicals in personal care products is crystal clear. Working in a nail salon shouldn t be a death sentence. The Personal Care Products Safety Act, which I introduced with Senator Susan Collins last month, would do that by making the chemicals in personal care products subject to Food and Drug Administration review.

The F.D.A. would review at least five chemicals each year to determine whether they are safe and at what concentrations they should be used. Formaldehyde, widely used in nail salons, would be among the first chemicals reviewed. Products like nail polish, shampoo and hair dye are used by millions of Americans every day. Our bill would ensure that they are safe for consumers and workers.

ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross had this comment: We recently discussed the basis (OK, lack of basis) for this misguided measure. Now, like a zombie, here it comes again, hard to kill. We here at ACSH hope that the Senate will not look favorably upon such governmental overreach. It s bad enough that the ideologues at the National Toxicology Program decided to name formaldehyde a human carcinogen, given the minuscule threat and the long-term, high-dose exposures required to raise cancer risk among embalmers; but to extrapolate that on to cosmetics in general is simply irresponsible.