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May 222009

From Green Right Now Reports:

As toxicologists see it, our chemical world is neither as dangerous as portrayed by the mainstream media and environmental groups, nor as safe as the American Chemistry Council and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) would have us believe.

That’s according to a survey of 937 members of the Society of Toxicology in early 2009. The survey, released Thursday, was administered by Harris Interactive and conducted by the nonprofit Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) and Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University.

“This survey suggests that the public doesn’t get a full and balanced picture of chemical risk,” said Dr. Robert Lichter, the survey director.

While the toxicologists surveyed believed that certain chemicals portrayed as dangerous in media stories actually pose little risk — such as those used in Teflon and the Bisphenol A used in plastic – more than half of them said they believed that pesticides pose a “significant health risk” and that chemicals cause hormonal disruptions in humans.

Distortions occur when the media pay too much attention to individual cases and also to the agenda set by environmental groups, according to the survey findings. More than 90 percent said they felt media coverage of chemical-related issues lacked balance and failed to distinguish good studies from bad studies and also to explain that “the dose makes the poison” (that chemicals that are dangerous in high doses can be safe in small doses).

They also said that WebMD and Wikipedia offered more balanced coverage than more established media outlets.

A majority of toxicologists felt that most government agencies do a better job than the media, environmental groups or trade associations of accurately portraying chemical risks, though they rated the Environmental Protection Agency (40 % ) and Consumer Product Safety Commission (47%) lower.

The findings:

When asked to agree or disagree with statements about chemical safety and regulation:

• 26% believe cosmetics pose a significant health risk
• 33% believe food additives pose a significant health risk
• 55% believe pesticides pose a significant health risk
• 53% believe chemicals cause endocrine disruption
• Only 10% believe organic or “natural” products are inherently safer
• Only 6% believe that any exposure to a harmful chemical is unacceptable
• 69% say chemicals do not need to be regulated according to the precautionary principle
• Only 23% say the U.S. regulatory system is inferior to Europe’s
• 54% say U.S. regulators are not doing a good job explaining chemical risks

Despite recent controversies in the news over the safety of commonly used chemicals, few toxicologists believe they pose a high health risk:

• 3% see Teflon as having a high degree of risk
• 3% see genetically modified organisms as high risk
• 9% see Bisphenol A, a component of many plastics, as high risk
• 11% see phthalates, which make vinyl flexible, as high risk
• 12% see high fructose corn syrup, used in soft drinks, as high risk

The toxicologists overwhelmingly say that environmental activist groups overstate the health risks of chemicals. But they also say industry groups underplay the risks:

• 96% say Greenpeace overstates the health risks of chemicals
• 80% say the Environmental Defense Fund overstates chemical risks
• 79% say the Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Center for Science in the Public Interest overstate the risks
• 57% say the American Chemistry Council understates chemical risks
• 60% say the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) understates chemical risks
• In contrast, majorities say that most U.S. governmental agencies accurately portray risk, with only the EPA (40%) and the CPSC (47%) falling below a majority

The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, according to Harris Interactive, a survey research firm.