The American Chemical Society is a not-for-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. That doesn't keep their editors from lobbying against science and common sense, like when a team of authors in Environmental Science&Technology, funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, are allowed to terrify Americans by scaremongering the American barbecue grill the weekend before Memorial Day.

They warn that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are going to literally get under your skin, and it sounds scary because it's supposed to - it is nonsense scientifically and solely media bait. To journalists all chemical names sound scary. And the presence of any potential pathogen must be considered pathological.  Their supporting information is geared to make it sound all the more terrifying: 70 percent of Americans own a grill or smoker! Half of those owners grill multiple times per month.  And those PAHs can be harmful!

Can they be harmful? Only to rats with tubes in their stomachs. 

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of chemicals formed during burning. That can be coal, volcanoes, or...meat.  Though our EPA recently insisted American air quality, which is fantastic, is killing people, they couldn't show it using real pollution like soot, so they moved to epidemiological claims about PAHs and small micron particulate matter (PM2.5). Can PAHs be harmful? Probably, if you inhale enough of them, but shady groups like Natural Resources Defense Council have insisted that EPA is hiding the truth about the real harmful harmful level of PAHs. (1) 

They made a graphic. You can bet that will be enough to have Center for Science in the Public Interest lawyers suing and settling with the federal government.

But through the skin from the smoke of a barbecue grill causing harm? This is new. Trace levels of PAHs can enter your body through your lungs when they are stuck to particles you breathe, like if you are a smoker or inhale volcanic ash. And you might get them by drinking if you consumer water from a hazardous waste dump.  But it is unclear how well our lungs even absorb PAHs - no one has done it enough to get harm ever - and no one has actually drank hazardous waste in an experiment. All we have are a lot of dead mice force-fed these things at levels that are five orders of magnitude higher than you can get in the real world, and journalists thinking that rodents are just little people. Well, they aren't. It's not even close. We have more in common biologically with mice than we do bananas, but not enough to show what causes cancer.

Still, cancer. That's a scary word. If we can save even one life... 

No, we can't, there are no human lives being lost here, none. PAHs are only produced in any quantity as research chemicals. That means if we want to scare people we instead have to do it with trace levels in things like summer barbecues. And that is what the authors of this paper do. Their press release notes CARCINOGENS in the title, because that is what sells in the post-truth world of IARC hazard assessments. Yet their actual study was the kind of thing we saw when a group of anti-science mommy bloggers hired a lab to find traces of glyphosate in breast milk. 

They divided a small volunteers into groups at an outdoor barbecue and gave them food while exposing them to smoke. Then they took urine samples. If this sounds like the worst barbecue ever, yeah, I agree.

Anyway, they found that they could detect PAHs. No surprise there, I can detect a drop of liquid in 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools too, but that doesn't mean that drop will give me cancer. But skin had even lower trace amounts than food. Still, the authors claimed you need to rush and change your clothes or you might get cancer.

How do you like your steak now, comrade?

I like mine rare, thanks. Just like it is rare to find science in environmental journals.


(1) Yes, the same Obama administration NRDC were writing stealth policy papers for was hiding the truth elsewhere, they conspiratorially suggested. No wonder the new EPA has banned "sue and settle" agreements with environmentalists and ended the "secret science" that has led to so much distrust by the public. 

It that all falls under "Rejected knowledge" that somehow stays in the public consciousness, like Natural Resources Defense Council claiming DDT led to breast cancer on Long Island, vaccines cause autism, and the parent company of Consumer Reports claiming GMOs will cause people in Africa to mutate.