Toxins!

I’d love to see what the angry toxicologist thinks of this scary article from CNN Tests reveal high chemical levels in kids’ bodies.

Michelle Hammond and Jeremiah Holland were intrigued when a friend at the Oakland Tribune asked them and their two young children to take part in a cutting-edge study to measure the industrial chemicals in their bodies.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t worried at all; I was fascinated,” Hammond, 37, recalled.

But that fascination soon changed to fear, as tests revealed that their children — Rowan, then 18 months, and Mikaela, then 5 — had chemical exposure levels up to seven times those of their parents.

“[Rowan’s] been on this planet for 18 months, and he’s loaded with a chemical I’ve never heard of,” Holland, 37, said. “He had two to three times the level of flame retardants in his body that’s been known to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats.”

Oh noes! The toxins!

I kid, but in the midst of an article which is a bit over-the-top in scaremongering are some important issues that probably should result in increased regulation of chemicals going into everyday products. For one, Elizabeth Whelan of the ACSH, true to form, spouts the standard industry denial – no problem:

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Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, a public health advocacy group, disagrees.

“My concern about this trend about measuring chemicals in the blood is it’s leading people to believe that the mere ability to detect chemicals is the same as proving a hazard, that if you have this chemical, you are at risk of a disease, and that is false,” she said. Whelan contends that trace levels of industrial chemicals in our bodies do not necessarily pose health risks.

Public health advocacy group? The ACSH? Please. Try instead, an industry can do no wrong advocacy group. While I agree that trace measurements of most of these chemicals is likely not a health problem, that doesn’t mean there is “no problem”.


The main problem here are the standards by which the EPA regulates chemicals which are routinely going into household products:

The Environmental Protection Agency does not require chemical manufacturers to conduct human toxicity studies before approving their chemicals for use in the market. A manufacturer simply has to submit paperwork on a chemical, all the data that exists on that chemical to date, and wait 90 days for approval.

Jennifer Wood, an EPA spokeswoman, insists the agency has the tools to ensure safe oversight.

“If during the new-chemical review process, EPA determines that it may have concerns regarding risk or exposure, the EPA has the authority to require additional testing,” she said. EPA records show that of the 1,500 new chemicals submitted each year, the agency asks for additional testing roughly 10 percent of the time. The EPA has set up a voluntary testing program with the major chemical manufacturers to retroactively test some of the 3,000 most widely used chemicals.

Now, this makes sense in the context of our understanding of toxicity before more sensitive methods of testing for these chemicals in the body emerged. When these rules were formulated it simply was not understood that low-level environmental exposure to many chemicals would lead to small amounts being absorbed, ingested, inhaled, etc., by the body. While it’s not clear that any level of these chemicals should be a concern for health, it simply isn’t acceptable now that we know they eventually get ingested to treat them as benign and harmless as a default. At the very least it needs to be made clear to consumers exactly what they’re buying, but even that isn’t really enough, as the woman in the article complains:

“I’m angry at my government for failing to regulate chemicals that are in mass production and in consumer products.” Hammond says. “I don’t think it should have to be up to me to worry about what’s in my couch.”

This is a very reasonable complaint. It is simply not possible for an average or even extremely above-average consumer to understand the impact of all these chemicals in ordinary household products even if they were informed of the content. Instead there simply must be more significant advanced safety testing, labeling, and retrospective testing, with the costs incumbent on the industry, for chemicals that ultimately end up in our bloodstreams. It is fundamentally unfair to expect consumers to tolerate chemical contaminants in their bodies, without being informed, given consent, or being minimally protected by toxicity and safety testing in animals.

Comments

  1. #1 gingerbaker
    October 24, 2007

    Also troubling is whatever testing is required never looks at the additive or synergistic toxic effects of chemicals used simultaneously.

    The estrogenic activity of plasticizers comes to mind.

  2. #2 Dan
    October 25, 2007

    MarkH say “Public health advocacy group? The ACSH? Please. Try instead, an industry can do no wrong advocacy group. While I agree that trace measurements of most of these chemicals is likely not a health problem, that doesn’t mean there is “no problem”.”

    Should this not be a card in your denialism book of cards, the ad hominem attack card? It goes sometime like this “sure Dr. so and sos research shows that passive smoking causes no smoking related diseases in never smokers, however, the research was partially funding by big tobacco.” The implication is that the finding has no merit because of the funding source and we all no what liars big tobacco it. This is also a denialist tactic. Above you are using it to discredit the ACSH and Dr. Elisabeth Whelan. ACSH states that they accept industry funding when no strings are attached which makes up 40% of their funding. Dr Whelan responds to the attacks on her that are similar to yours here:

    http://www.acsh.org/healthissues/newsID.1628/healthissue_detail.asp

    So you are making ad hominem attacks, like the denialist’s, to discredit statements or research findings you do not agree with based simply on who funded them. Let’s face it much research done by the medical community is funded by BigPharma and other bias sources. Why should we accept research based on those funding sources after all Big Pharma has their bottom line to protect? Boy you have problem claiming others use denialists tactics, but then use them yourself when it suits your needs.

  3. #3 Ken
    October 25, 2007

    “the ad hominem attack card… The implication is that the finding has no merit because of the funding source… Above you are using it to discredit the ACSH and Dr. Elisabeth Whelan… you are making ad hominem attacks, like the denialist�s, to discredit statements or research findings you do not agree with based simply on who funded them.”

    That’s quite a rant you got going on there, Dan. Unfortunately for you, while Mark’s offhanded dismissal of the ACSH is something of an ad hominem, that doesn’t make it fallacious or incorrect. In case you’re too lazy to google it, here’s a fairly representative explanation:

    there are some cases when it is not really a fallacy, such as when one needs to evaluate the truth of factual statements… made by interested parties. If someone has an incentive to lie about something, then it would be naive to accept his statements about that subject without question

    The fact that ASCH gets almost HALF of it’s funding from industry shows that it has a very strong incentive to misrepresent factual data (this means LIE, Dan – they have a strong motive to LIE). Combine this with their long history of siding with/defending the industry position on virtually every single issue they have ever advocated for and you’ve got a good indicator that they are not, in fact, a “Public health advocacy group” but actually more like an “industry can do no wrong advocacy group.”

    And whaddaya know?! That’s exactly what Mark said

  4. #4 MarkH
    October 25, 2007

    I’m sorry, that’s the kind of statement I should have backed-up by a post and it was dismissive. I didn’t expect it to actually have any fans. One of the major goals of this blog is to explain which sources of information are viable and should be listened to (and in which contexts). ACSH is quite simply an industry shill group with a great deal of history confirming this. I’ll have to write about it sometime.

  5. #5 Dan
    October 25, 2007

    Ah, Ken, then you agree with my “rant”. You say “Unfortunately for you, while Mark’s offhanded dismissal of the ACSH is something of an ad hominem, that doesn’t make it fallacious or incorrect.” but the same can be said of the ACSH and does not take away from my statements that MarkH is using denialist tactics. You are seem to support the statements that research funded by BigPharma, the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, etc are not to be trusted because they have incentive to LIE. BigPharma expects the research they fund to match their financial interests while the others finance studies that advance their political agendas. Where is the difference? You seem to be making my point. Based on his statements above, it appears MarkH sees he was playing with his own deck of cards.

  6. #6 MarkH
    October 25, 2007

    Jesus Dan, give me a bit of time. I’ve only had this blog running for 6 months and I can’t be expected to thoroughly research and debunk all kinds of crankery and fake experts in that time.

    Especially with regards to ACSH which is a particularly sophisticated group. They’re smart enough to disguise the ideological basis of many arguments in a lot of truthful attacks on junk science. All I can do at this point is say
    “trust me”, and wait until I inevitably take them on.

    What I will say, before I have time to do a full post on them, is that they’ve raised the hackles of many skeptics based on their opinions on threats to consumers. While they’ve disguised these pro-industry positions with many reasonable attacks on false health scares, the overarching goal clearly seems to be the willingness to defend industry against any attack (with the sole exception of tobacco).

    I’m going to wait until there’s a more timely and critical example of their dishonesty, then it should be clear. Until then, please be a little charitable and accept that I’ve got some expertise on crankery and fake expert groups and am not just attacking them based on an ideological agenda. After all, I did agree with the statement in this case, except I disagreed with the implication of the statement.

  7. #7 Dan
    October 25, 2007

    MarkH I will give you the time and opportunity to support your position. My point being that you are seemingly also using your own deck of cards when convenient. I see ACSH as being a voice of reason with all this health scare mongering going on in the press. Call me a skeptic or call me a denialist. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference. I did take the time to read what wikipedia had to say (yes I am aware of your posts regarding wikipedia) about ACSH and the post seems to support your position.

  8. #8 Dan
    October 25, 2007

    One farther comment. There is another person posting under the alias Dan here. The difference being I include my URL.

  9. #9 Bob Rothwell
    October 28, 2007

    “Jesus Dan, give me a bit of time. I’ve only had this blog running for 6 months and I can’t be expected to thoroughly research and debunk all kinds of crankery and fake experts in that time.”

    Yeah, we know: I haven’t the evidence yet, but I think it’s coming in on the next pony express and I’ll get back to you.

    “Especially with regards to ACSH which is a particularly sophisticated group. They’re smart enough to disguise the ideological basis of many arguments in a lot of truthful attacks on junk science. All I can do at this point is say
    “trust me”, and wait until I inevitably take them on.”

    Yeah, we know: I haven’t the evidence yet, but I think it’s coming in on the next pony express and I’ll get back to you.

    You’re arguing like an ignorant twit. Why the hell don’t you just close up shop and take up basket weaving? What a pathetic attempt at self-justification!

    Trust you? Why should we when you’re obviously running on ideological juices and even more obviously don’t have the faintest idea what in the hell you’re talking about?

    Jeez, what a creep.
    .

  10. #10 MarkH
    October 28, 2007

    Such hostility?

    I wonder what ideology I’m being accused of today. Am I being a neocon? A materialist atheist? A whackjob liberal? I seem to be a Rorschach test, I am apparently the opposing ideology of whoever doesn’t like their BS challenged.

    Anti-science doesn’t have a conservative or liberal bias. Everybody has their BS. So I get accused of it all.

    As far as ACSH, the sourcewatch page should tide you over until, as I say, I have a chance to demonstrate the problem with that group. Very quickly, they have cleverly created the appearance of an independent group, but by largely selecting scientists with an industry bent, and frankly, knowing where their money comes from, they should not be trusted. They have many crank experts working for them that I wouldn’t trust for a minute at the same time they have highly legitimate folks that I know.

    The result is an all-purpose fake consumer group that, as you can see in this article, will automatically take the side of industry and say “no problem” when clearly a problem exists.

  11. #11 Anonymous
    November 9, 2007

    Sorry it took so long to comment There really shouldn’t even be an argument about ASCH, they are a joke. As to Mark’s comment:

    Instead there simply must be more significant advanced safety testing, labeling, and retrospective testing, with the costs incumbent on the industry, for chemicals that ultimately end up in our bloodstreams. It is fundamentally unfair to expect consumers to tolerate chemical contaminants in their bodies, without being informed, given consent, or being minimally protected by toxicity and safety testing in animals.

    That’s exactly right. How can we give someone the right to pump my body (and my kids) full of chemicals with out my consent and have no idea whether it’s safe or not. With this situation, I have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that I got sick from their chemical. A rediculous situation if you ask me.

  12. #12 AngryToxicologist
    November 9, 2007

    Whoops. I guess I screwed up the link above. It should go to my post about ACSH here.

    The second should go here.

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