As we begin a new year, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) would first like to try and slay the demons and hobgoblins of the past year. We do this each New Year’s Eve by making a list of the top unfounded health scares of the outgoing year. These bouts of hysteria are prompted by many different things. But what they have in common is that there’s no scientific evidence to back up the alarms being sounded.
Here’s our top ten:
l.) Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been used for more than 50 years in the manufacture of everything from life-saving medical devices to water bottles, eyeglass lenses and CD’s. It more than earned the “unfounded scare of the year award.” Not only does BPA not threaten health — it actually promotes public health when used as a can liner to protect us from otherwise dangerous food-borne diseases, like botulism. Yet seven states now have instituted a ban on the use of BPA in the sale and manufacture of baby bottles and sipping cups.
Babies exposed to chemicals? Unacceptable say many activists. But here is the truth: BPA has never posed a health threat to children or adults. Regulatory bodies around the world — including our own FDA — have confirmed that. The fear of BPA is a perfect example of the fact, as psychiatrists have pointed out, that people have long feared things they do not understand and cannot see — and adding a concern for children to the mix only raises the fear level more.
2). E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes), which are an odorless and flameless clean nicotine delivery system, stand accused of containing “carcinogens” and of being as dangerous as real cigarettes.
But e-cigarettes pose little or no harm compared to real cigarettes. What is harmful about traditional cigarette smoking is the products of combustion that are created when the smoker lights up. Nicotine, in itself, although highly addictive, isn’t particularly harmful — its “toxicity” is about the same as caffeine. E-cigarettes give smokers the nicotine “fix” they want — without the frightening chemical mix produced by the combustion in traditional cigarettes.
So-called public health and anti-smoking groups who condemn the e-cigarettes as health hazards similar to traditional smoking are doing a great disservice to the tens of millions of addicted cigarette smokers in America.
3.) Atrazine, one of the most effective and the second most widely used herbicide, has been accused of causing everything from cancer to birth defects. Although our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long defended atrazine’s safety, this year the agency, under pressure from activists, began yet another re-evaluation of atrazine’s safety profile.
Atrazine’s greatest foe has been a professor from the University of California at Berkeley who seems to have a personal vendetta against the chemical and its manufacturer, Syngenta. The bottom line is that no study has ever shown that atrazine’s presence in water at any level has ever caused ill health in humans.
4.) Phthalates, a group of chemicals which have long been added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to soften plastics, are found in myriad products — including rubber duckies, intravenous medical tubing, shower curtains, personal care items like hairspray and body lotion — and more. Several activist anti-chemical groups have made it their mission to incriminate phthalates as a “deadly poison” responsible for various health maladies, including developmental and reproductive effects following fetal exposure. Some scientists, like the University of Rochester’s Dr. Shanna Swan, have literally built their careers on searching for health threats from phthalates.
But a vast amount of scientific data already exists on the safety of phthalates, and currently there is no known adverse health effects from the use of phthalates in consumer products. This group of chemicals has been used safely for decades and has been deemed safe by health regulatory authorities around the world.