How the Media Got the Vinyl Chloride Risk All Wrong (Reason Magazine)

It is astounding (although not surprising) how badly the media botched its reporting on "deadly vinyl chloride," as if residents of Ohio didn't have enough to worry about. My opinion piece in Reason Magazine addresses just this. Scare, not science.

The residents of East Palestine, Ohio, have more than enough to worry about. A train wreck with black fumes of burning chemicals pouring from a tank is frightening enough. The absolute last thing they need is the news media spreading even scarier—but inaccurate—information about the accident.

Yet for weeks, that is precisely what's been going on.

Vinyl chloride, a chemical long used to make PVC plastics, is being portrayed as something more suitable for capital punishment than for a routine manufacturing process in a factory. Ohioans, like the rest of the country, are being bombarded by horrifying claims about its health risks, most of which have been just plain wrong.

There is, in fact, strong evidence that vinyl chloride not only is not deadly but is, in fact, considerably less toxic than many common, everyday drugs and chemicals. Likewise, its cancer risks have also been wildly overstated. It is easy to call a chemical a carcinogen, but in the absence of context, dose, and length of exposure, this term means little.

Fortunately, there is a longstanding, highly regarded organization that provides information on the health risks of individual chemicals. The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) describes itself as "a global self-funded nonprofit organization, established in 1896, devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards." The group maintains a database of more than 3,000 chemicals—a critical tool for first responders or other workers who must deal with the aftermath of a chemical spill or fire. Here we can begin to understand the real risks of vinyl chloride.

#Reprinted with permission from Reason Magazine. The entire article can be read here.