There has been a long-running scare campaign against the commonly-used herbicide 2,4-D, which has been conducted by a number of environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council being at or near the front of the pack. NRDC uses the time-tested strategy of equating 2,4-D with Agent Orange — the notorious herbicide that was used to defoliate swaths of Vietnam during the war. The name Agent Orange itself sounds scary, and the concerns about the health effects of one of its components — 2,3,7,8-TCDD, aka "dioxin" — are legitimate. One of the components of Agent Orange was, in fact, 2,4-D. So was water. Neither had anything to do with dioxin. But, a second herbicide called 2,4,5-T certainly did. (During the production of Agent Orange, some dioxin was formed as an unwanted byproduct. This is what is responsible for the toxicity of the "brew.") Yet, NRDC tosses around the names 2,4-D, dioxin, 2,4,5-T, and Agent Orange interchangeably as if to imply that they are all the same dangerous chemical. They are not. Whether the group is doing this intentionally (lying) or unable to understand simple chemistry (incompetent) is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to give them a “break” and assume that they are competent liars. Whatever their reason, NRDC (and similar groups) have been exploiting this misconception for many years. Here is a sample of some of the many misleading statements that have appeared on the NRDC website over an eight-year period (emphasis mine): September 2008: "If you've used a pesticide on your lawn in the past 60 years, there's a good chance you've used 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (aka 2,4-D) - a carcinogen that was also one-half of the recipe for the infamous Agent Orange." February 2012: "... NRDC senior scientist Dr. Gina Solomon [said] 'There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent Orange-ingredient in the places our children play..."' August 2013: "And the next generation of genetically-modified crops looks to be even more harmful, with the potential to unleash wide scale use of older and more toxic herbicides, such as 2,4-D (a component of Agent Orange)." September 2014: "2,4-D was also a component of the infamous herbicidal cocktail Agent Orange, which the United States used during the Vietnam War to destroy thick vegetation in the jungle." March 2016: "But both of these [two different cancers] can be caused by a number of chemicals, including dioxin, which was frequently mixed into formulations of 2,4-D until the mid-1990s." The sordid past of Agent Orange has been the subject of an ongoing, acrimonious controversy for decades. Anyone who remembers, or has studied the Vietnam War will remember the names Agent Orange, and dioxin (aka, 2,3,7,8-TCDD), as well as the myriad of health effects that were associated with the latter (will not be discussed here). But, since 2,4,5-T is no longer used, this discussion is now completely irrelevant — NRDC's wordsmanship notwithstanding. In each of the statements above, the group has crafted its words in a way that strongly suggest that 2,4-D is highly toxic and carcinogenic, simply because it happened to part of the mixture that also contained 2,4,5-T and its impurity dioxin. It is not much of a stretch for the reader to also conclude that 2,4-D itself also contains dioxin. But it does not, and cannot. It is chemically impossible: The above figure shows that 2,4,5-trichlorophenol — the raw material used to make 2,4,5-T — contains one more chlorine atom (red circle) than 2,4-dichlorophenol, the raw material for 2,4-D. This single chlorine atom makes all the difference in the world. Since it is not present (yellow arrow) in 2,4-D, it is not possible to form dioxin during the manufacture of 2,4-D. This is the big lie, equating 2,4-D with Agent Orange, and dioxin. Here is how the statements should read if NRDC was even remotely interested in telling the truth: "The herbicide Agent Orange was a mixture of 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, and dioxin — a toxic impurity that was formed during the manufacture of 2,4,5-T. Since 2,4,5-T is no longer used, dioxin cannot be formed. Neither Agent Orange, nor dioxin are in any way relevant to 2,4-D." Don't hold your breath. Disclosure: I own one spray bottle of weed killer that contains 2,4-D. But it is only half full.
NRDC Scientists Are Lying in the Weeds
By Josh Bloom
Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. The field of drug discovery involves chemistry, biochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology - skills that he has used to write on a wide variety of topics since he joined ACSH in 2010. One of the topics he has tackled is the so-called "opioid crisis." He is now recognized as an expert in this area and was the first journalist to write a nationally published opinion piece about the unintended consequences of a governmental crackdown on prescription pain medications (New York Post, 2013). Since that time he has published more than 20 op-eds in regional and national newspapers on different aspects of the crisis. In that same year, he testified at an FDA hearing, where he noted that fentanyl was the real danger, something that would be proven years later. At that time almost no one had heard of the drug.
He was also the first writer (2016) to study, dissect and ultimately debunk the manipulated statistics used by the CDC to justify its recommendations for opioid prescribing, which have resulted in Draconian requirements for prescribing pain medications as well as government-mandated, involuntary tapering of patients receiving opioid treatment, both of which have caused great harm and needless suffering to chronic pain patients. His 2016 article, "Six Charts Designed to Confuse You," is the seminal work on CDC deception and has been adopted by patient advocacy groups and individuals and has been sent to governors and state legislatures.
Dr. Bloom earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Virginia, followed by postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania. His career in drug discovery research began at Lederle Laboratories, which was acquired by Wyeth in 1994, which itself was acquired by Pfizer in 2009. During this time he participated in research in a number of therapeutic areas, including diabetes and obesity, antibiotics, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and oncology. His group discovered the novel antibiotic Tygacil®, which was approved by the FDA for use against resistant bacterial infections in 2005. He is the author of 25 patents, and 35 academic papers, including a chapter on new therapies for hepatitis C in Burger’s Medicinal Chemistry, Drug Discovery and Development, 7th Edition (Wiley, 2010), and has given numerous invited lectures about how the pharmaceutical industry really works.
Dr. Bloom joined the American Council on Science and Health in 2010 as ACSH’s Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and has since published more than 60 op-eds in numerous periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, New Scientist, The New York Post, National Review Online, The Boston Herald, and The Chicago Tribune, and given numerous radio and television interview on topics related to drugs and chemicals. In 2014, Dr. Bloom was invited to become a featured writer for the site Science 2.0, where he wrote more 75 pieces on a broad range of topics.