|The Week That Was
April 5-11, 1999
Singer versus the EPA! No, not your friend Fred Singer, the physicist, but Peter Singer (no relation whatsoever), the Australian animal ethicist now ensconced as a professor at Princeton University. He has been described as “a very smart moral lunatic ... noted for championing with equal fanaticism the rights of animals and the rightness of eliminating unfit human beings, born and unborn.” (First Things, Feb 1999, p.75).
His group, the “Coalition to Abolish LD-50 Tests” [a project of Animal Rights International], took out a full-page ad the other day to attack the EPA. They want EPA to stop the wasteful classic LD 50 [median Lethal Dose] test, which determines how much of any substance will kill a group of laboratory animals.
Turns out, we too oppose this “ritual mass execution of animals,” but for a different reason. The EPA is about to require testing of some 62,000 chemicals for harmful hormonal effects, “in response to a growing body of research indicating that man-made industrial chemicals and pesticides may commit a kind of molecular sabotage within the body’s regulatory apparatus, possibly causing birth defects, low sperm counts, breast cancer, mental impairment…” [This may be getting serious!]
The “scientific evidence” consists of a study published in Science in June 1996, but then withdrawn in July 1997 when no one, not even the original authors, could reproduce the earlier results. The other “evidence” is the book “Our Stolen Future,” widely propagated by the W. Alton Jones Foundation, whose director is a co-author. The book has been blasted by experts in endocrinology and statistics, but to no avail. The EPA is determined to move ahead with a screening program; at $1.5 million per test, it will produce a huge burden on hapless consumers. Not to mention the poor mice and rats who will be asked to give their all for what passes as science.
Even a small part of the EPA program can devastate the plastics, farming, and pharmaceutical industries, which will have to foot the bill. As one executive described it at a meeting of an EPA review panel: “We’re being held hostage by ten mice.”
Rarely mentioned: The possible hormonal effects of chemicals, both manmade and found naturally in food, are dwarfed by the hormones produced in our own bodies, and by synthetic hormones in birth-control pills and hormonal supplements. (These hormones, when discharged into wastewater, and then rivers, can indeed affect fish reproduction.)
In the meantime, mixed news on the chemicals-cancer front:
A 31-year study found no link between PCB exposure and cancer deaths, as reported by Reuters. Seven thousand people worked at GE plants in upstate New York from 1946 to 1977; many workers had high levels of chemicals in their blood, but the death rates were actually lower than expected based on national death rates. (GE commissioned and funded the project, but had no input in designing the study or analyzing the data.) And the latest (but surely not the last) word on dioxin: The April issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology reports no cancer effects found in Viet veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
But a case involving a cancer cluster of relatively rare neuroblastoma was decided in favor of plaintiffs. Their experts conceded that the cause of neuroblastoma is unknown and offered no evidence of exposure to any contaminant at the site of the defendant chemical company. They merely pointed to the chemicals at the site as possibly cancer-causing. The Illinois jury found in favor of plaintiffs, but the case is being appealed.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate dioxin and phase out PVC , widely used in medical applications. Fears have been raised, mainly by Greenpeace, that phthalates could leak out from PVC, citing animal studies in which rodents were exposed to huge, near-lethal doses. No evidence that small doses in humans cause problems. Nevertheless, Austria and Scandinavian countries are banning soft plastic children’s toys containing phthalates. Italy may follow soon. (Funny thing though; just published scientific studies of the huge dioxin accident in Sesevo, Italy have shown no aftereffects.)
On the other hand, the March 22 issue of TIME published a retraction of its earlier story on “Poisonous Plastics”; they forgot to mention that scientists and public health groups found no significant risk to human health from plastic softeners. For a full report , read Mike Fumento in the Wall Street Journal (April 2).
UNEP is launching a campaign to ban DDT and other persistent organic pollutants (POP) worldwide by 2007. It seems that at a recent conference in Nairobi, delegates from 103 countries determined that DDT is harmful to human health (DDT is still used in Africa and South America to control malarial mosquitoes.) We are constantly impressed by the great medical acumen shown by political delegates at international conferences. But we shouldn’t be surprised; when US scientists assured EPA administrator Bill Ruckelshaus way back when that DDT was safe for humans, he decided to ignore their advice and went for the politically correct ban. It pleased environmental activists -- and mosquitoes.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] is (are?) not only unhappy with Al Gore, but their letter of March 30 to the Washington Times attacks the Environmental Defense Fund (Tsk, Tsk…). PETA is fighting the high production volume [HPV] chemical-testing program that will administer megadoses of chemicals to the skins of rabbits. PETA wants EPA to stop “Burned Bunnies” testing and decries the cost of this “do-nothing testing program,” which is simply a “program of testing for testing’s sake.” [How true!] “The EPA already has been forced to redirect resources away from important environmental issues to satisfy Mr. Gore’s politically driven HPV chemical-testing program.” [There you go!]
Till next week...