But everyone hates the word "chemical."
That is why it is fertile ground for scaremongering. As soon as you use the word chemical, people are scared, and if you throw the word "toxic" in front of it, like activist academics and $2 billion per year in environmental groups do, dollar signs are sure to follow.
In December, the end of the fiscal year for a lot of environmental groups, you are going to see a push for donations, and that means a rash of toxic chemical articles to help them. I wrote about scaremongering trace flame retardant chemicals in car seats yesterday, because 'tis the season, and today activists are saying flame retardant chemicals from cell phones are scary - but instead of kids, it is women at risk.
"Earlier this year the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission granted a petition to ban the use of certain harmful flame retardant chemicals in electronics and other products," says Professor Miriam Diamond from the University of Toronto. "The organophosphate esters identified in this new study are often used as replacements for the banned chemicals, and increasing evidence indicates that these replacement chemicals are harmful as well."
The new chemicals replaced old chemicals banned based on a petition, not science, and therefore the new ones must be harmful? Little wonder she is on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, a group devoted to scaremongering chemicals for financial gain.
"Increasing evidence?" No, the citations Yang et al. used showed nothing like that.
Professor Diamond has a degree in chemistry, so she knows better than to engage in this kind of doublespeak, but with millions of scientists worldwide you can always find someone terrified of science and willing to oppose it. Gilles-Eric Seralini has a degree, after all, as does Tyrone Hayes. Fred Vom Saal - you name it, and someone with credentials can be found to oppose science and manipulate the public using emotional terms.
I am not the answer, I am only the question
When you have no real science, just the ability to worry the public with the technological reality that in modern times we can literally detect anything in anything, you have an easy way to avoid blowback from the real science community; use a question mark. So Yang et al. don't come right out and say cell phones are causing infertile women or breast cancer, they ask if they might be a source of chemicals which might some day be shown to cause cancer or infertility. ("Are cell phones an indicator of personal exposure to organophosphate flame retardants and plasticizers?")
It's unethical framing so there is little surprise it is published in Environment International, a magazine which touts an editorial board that includes America's most prominent chemophobe, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, head of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the person who literally handed us BPA and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals hype and keeps the hysteria alive.
What is their sole data point? They can detect metabolites in urine.
There is zero evidence organophosphate esters are harming anyone at levels humanly possible to attain over a lifetime, including by fabricated bioaccumulation myths. They are used as flame retardants (a good thing, as I have discussed many times) and by now there is so much data any harm would have been shown. But there hasn't been. Not a single case. Sure, it is easy to statistically massage numbers to try and correlate chemicals and potential harm, I can correlate the price of steel to violence in New York City the same way, but biologists, toxicologists and chemists can't find real risk, and they would have by now.
Still, it is a chemical name and they may be hoping that is good enough for journalists who are politically sympathetic to the anti-chemical narrative. And that is clearly the goal of the University of Toronto press release.
But you know what metabolites in urine really mean? It means the harmless chemical is not staying in the body anyway. Still, they use detection to create a chemophobia daisy chain to weave a scary narrative about chemicals that they would not be able to state as science in a stand-alone scenario. They can detect metabolites of a chemical in urine. Okay, so what? We can detect anything in anything in 2018. But then they say the organophosphate esters levels matched those on hands. Okay, again these are trace chemicals, if someone tells me they can't detect them on hands or a plastic product I would be yelling "foul." But then they warn that the urinary metabolites are not related to levels in residential air. Still, unimportant, because the air is not plastic and air causes flames, we don't use it as a flame retardant - we literally use chemical antioxidants to suppress flammability.
Well, that's it. Using their chemophobia daisy chain they then claim cell phones may be a source of organophosphate esters. It's like watching an environmental version of "Memento", you have to watch it backward, and in short clips, to try and figure out what is going on. Their only evidence for these higher levels are pee from 44 pre-selected women, and there is no evidence at all the "higher levels" are meaningful. Unless you are holding a cell phone for 40,000 hours per day you can't possibly get enough of these chemicals to do anything meaningful. And the fact that it's in urine means that could be 4,000,000 hours of cell phone use per day.
It's okay to buy your wife, girlfriend or daughter a cell phone for Christmas. You are far more likely to get cancer from the natural chemicals in a 100-percent organic dinner, which is really just a way of saying if you get cancer, it is going to be due to obesity. not the chemicals in the food.