Wherever he is, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim a/k/a Paracelsus must be doing the Foxtrot in his grave. Because somehow a bunch of dopes have managed to “correct” something he got absolutely right 600 years ago. You know what it is.
Unfortunately, the dopes are not so dopey when it comes to spreading their message: Because a chemical is toxic or carcinogenic in high doses (usually in rodent experiments) that it poses a danger to humans at miniscule doses. Therefore we should be scared of any chemical that they tell us is dangerous, regardless of the exposure. And their list is endless.
Some even believe that low doses of something can actually be more harmful than high doses, but let’s save a special place for them later.
Like it or not, this is the state “science” these days, and an astoundingly large number of people have bought into it. More accurately, they were manipulated into it.
And, you better believe that this is having an effect on all of us. This is being seen in what you buy, what you eat, what you wash with, and how much extra you will pay, simply because the people behind the anti-chemical/green/radical environmental movements have done a splendid job of twisting (or just making up) data to suit their agendas
Their agenda? Probably money, ego, academic recognition—oh, and money. If you can scare people enough, they will donate so you will get rid of what is “poisoning” them. If you are in academia, you better toe the party line—the more outrageous the better—or you can forget about getting funded. So, it pays big time to keep the scares coming.
So, let’s take a look at a sampling of influential dopes and what they have to say. Keep in mind that this stuff spreads like wildfire in an already-chemophobic society. Have Rolaids available.
1) The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that appears to be against all forms of matter on earth. I don’t know their charter, but I suspect it looks something like this:
1. Assume all chemicals cause cancer unless proven otherwise
2. It is impossible to prove that anything does not cause cancer
3. See #1
These guys really don’t want you to be drinking bottled water. So they use the old “drugs are found in bottled water” scam as a scare tactic. Here is one example that is so preposterous that I’m almost speechless. (OK, that’s a lie, but it sounded good.)
In an embarrassingly clumsy attempt to scare people from drinking the stuff, they report on their website that acetaminophen was detected in bottled water and caution that “the effects of life-long, constant exposure to this levels of acetaminophen are not known.”
OK, let’s take a look at the data. What is the concentration of the drug that they detected? It is about 1 part per billion. Some back-of-the-envelope math gives you an idea of how much this really is. Uh-oh! One part per billion is the concentration that is equivalent of one Tylenol dissolved in 250 million gallons of water—about 379 Olympic size swimming pools.
We don’t know the effect of long-term exposure to miniscule levels of acetaminophen? Like hell we don’t. They are zero.
2) Nick Kristof:
The well-known New York Times columnist is really quite good at what he does—tackling human rights and other important issues— and has two Pulitzers to show for it. This comes to a screeching halt when he wanders into an area he knows absolutely nothing about—chemical toxicity. Then he starts sounding like a lunatic.
He especially dislikes bisphenol-A (BPA) a component of polycarbonate plastics. These plastics have been used forever—most commonly as liners to seal canned foods. It is well known that the plastic can slowly decompose, giving off very small amounts of BPA in the process. BPA is also used in many other ways—safety helmets, toys, medical devices, and cash register receipts. This is why virtually everyone has miniscule, but measurable amounts of BPA in his or her urine (it is rapidly metabolized in the liver and excreted in urine—one of many reasons it is harmless).
Does this mean we are being poisoned by BPA? Kristof seems to think so. In his 2012 op-ed, “How Chemicals Affect Us” he makes a lot of odd claims—my personal favorite being about alligators with small penises (I, for one, do NOT volunteer to take these measurements).
But I’m not sure I blame him entirely. Here is why: The expert he takes advice from is John Peterson Myers, chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, whose website includes a doozy called “Fight to legalize marijuana offers a way to obtain a better measure of electricity use.” I looked for the companion paper, "Legalized Jaywalking Keeps Cocoa Puffs Crunchy," but couldn’t find it.
In Kristof’s op-ed he quotes Myers: “We don’t microwave in plastic,” …“We don’t use pesticides in our house. I refuse receipts whenever I can. My default request at the A.T.M., known to my bank, is ‘no receipt.’ I never ask for a receipt from a gas station.” Which makes me wonder if you could really screw with his head by sending him a bunch of terrible gifts with the return receipts in the box.
3) Frederick vom Saal and the “low dose effect:
Vom Saal, a professor at the University of Missouri has devoted pretty much all of his professional existence to finding something (anything, really) bad about BPA. Doesn't really matter what. Infertility? Diabetes? The Cuban missile crisis?
He has used some “creative reasoning” along the way. Something called the “low dose effect.”
First, he stuffed a wheelbarrow full of BPA into mice and he couldn’t find anything bad. But when he gave them very low doses he “found” problems. Or so he claims. So, here were his choices: a) Question the validity of the experiments (and many have), or b) Use a Bigfoot-type explanation that supports his data at the expense of common sense.
He chose (b)—a hypothesis, which is not only counterintuitive (and as someone with a lifetime drug research, pharmacokinetics and toxicology under my belt, counterintuitive is being kind) but just plain nuts.
I don’t have the time or patience to go into this, but if you’d like to see a comprehensive list of studies that debunk this craziness, try this or this. And the FDA recently dismantled this theory. Their report says, “Our interpretation of the results of the present study is that BPA in the “low dose” region from 2.5 to 2,700 µg/kg bw/day (micrograms per kilogram body weight of the animals) did not produce effects in the evaluated endpoints that differ from normal background biological variation.”
In other words, low doses of BPA did absolutely nothing.
Let’s consider a couple of real life analogies that exemplify the absurdity of the low dose effect:
I get sunburn from lying on the beach for 30 minutes. If I lay there for another four hours will it get better?
And even more likely: Let’s say that I accidentally drop a cinder block on my testicles. I have no life experience to support this, but I'm going to assume this will cause me significant discomfort. What to do? Do I intentionally drop ten more cinder blocks on the old boys so that they feel better?
4) Dr. Oz
I don't even know where to start, but in the interest of not singlehandedly crashing the Internet, I'll limit the discussion to a couple of things.
Saving the best for first, the good doctor, also not a fan of BPA, gives some suggestions about how to avoid the stuff.
In his January, 2014 article in The Province, he says the following: “So we suggest you reduce your exposure to BPA and BPS by: Cooking and microwaving food only in glass, ceramic and stainless steel containers.”
Heat up stuff in metal in your microwave?
This automatically qualifies for the 2014 Top Five List of Bad Ideas. Here are the others:
1. Bear trap slippers
2. Yankee season tickets
3. IED speed bumps
4. A hair soufflé
Dr. Oz is also a big fan of cleaning things without using chemicals. On his website, he offers nine suggestions.
Many of them consist of combining vinegar (acetic acid—a chemical) with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate— another chemical)l. These react instantly to form sodium acetate (another chemical). Sodium acetate is harmless, but it won’t clean anything either. And should you be wondering why the average American has the science IQ equivalent to mold spores, you might want to check out the following video. (Don’t miss this—I’m begging you.)
In the video Julia Roberts is on Oprah celebrating Earth Day, and is talking about all things organic, including a non-toxic cleaner. Guess what? Sodium acetate again. And she brings her “personal chemist” Sophie Uliano. Watch what happens when these geniuses show you how to make the “cleaner.” It happens at 8:20 in the video. I strongly suggest you avoid the rest. But if you don’t, and end up jumping off the Chrysler Building, don’t blame me. (And after you watch this, if you develop a mental image of three guys poking each other in the eye with two fingers you are not alone.)
I could go on and on, but this has given me a headache. Time to go take one-millionth of an aspirin.
Front page image: EWG