A Teachable Moment about Chemophobia

Alan Caruba by Alan Caruba on April 10th, 2012

This is article 39 of 71 in the topic Food/Natural Remedies

Having written a series, “The BPA File”, in which I detailed the vast efforts made worldwide to ban bisphenol-A, a chemical in use for the last sixty years to protect food containers against spoilage and to strengthen plastic bottles against breakage, I naturally welcomed news that the Food and Drug Administration has recently concluded the claims made against it lacked “scientific information” to justify the claims that have been made against it.

In fact, it was news enough to merit an article in The Wall Street Journal.

Ask any physician about the role of chemicals in the lives of humans and you will learn that we are walking chemical machines that not only ingest the chemicals we need to live—food and liquids—but we manufacture them in our bodies to maintain our health and, at the same time, eliminate harmful chemicals on a daily basis. This is necessary because we live in a world composed of chemicals, from ordinary water to the vitamin and nutrient content of what we eat.

Ask any chemophobe—a person subject to fears about any and all chemicals—and they will begin to reel off the names of various compounds they are convinced will kill you. What they never seem to understand is that it is the dose—the amount of the chemical—that can constitute harm. In the case of the foods we eat, their processing and packaging, the dose is so small as to represent no harm whatever. Even ordinary potatoes contain arsenic!

That’s why another story caught my eye. It was from Environment Canada and said, “The government of Canada has decided that Siloxane D5 is not harmful to the environment.” This was a welcomed reversal of a 2009 assessment that questioned D5’s environmental safety. One can only hope that the U.S. government’s massive regulatory machine, in this case the EPA, gets the message that good science is essential to good decisions.

Environment Canada described D5, a material found in many consumer products, saying, “Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5) is an odorless, colorless liquid found in a number of personal care products, including deodorants, antiperspirants, cosmetics, shampoos, and body lotions. It is used in the production of silicone polymers and may also be used as a dry-cleaning solvent and in industrial cleaning.”

One can only imagine how many chemophobes have decided not to wash themselves, use cosmetics or antiperspirants because they are convinced they will die if they do.

I picked up the phone to Karluss Thomas, the Executive Director of the Silicone Environmental health & Safety Council of North America (SEHSC) to inquire whether D5 was on some watch list in the U.S. and he noted it is on a list of some 80 compounds scheduled for review by the EPA.

Mr. Thomas noted that his trade association had filed an objection with Environment Canada regarding earlier concerns about D5 and was pleased that a first-even Board of Review had been convened by the Canadian Environment Minister. The Board, after a rigorous review of the data, completely cleared D5 of any claims regarding its safe use. Three top, independent toxicologists gave it a thorough review. The findings, he said, had “broader implications” for any comparable review here in the U.S.

The Canadian action was a teachable moment for everyone who reads or hears similar claims about any chemical or product. Just as the PR campaign against Alar proved to be false and just as the latest claims against lean meat—labeled pink slime by its opponents—are equally bogus, real science inevitably disproves the claims.

Reliance on sound science leads to sound policy and spares society the harm that junk science causes to the economy, consumers, and to science itself.

© Alan Caruba, 2012

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