Over the past several decades, the American people have been manipulated
by a handful of scientists outside the mainstream to fear safe products
that improve their quality of life. Products have been removed from the
market, banned, or heavily regulated due to unfounded claims that they pose
serious risks to human health. Regulating and restricting such products
comes at a high price: Increased prices, fewer job opportunities, and fewer
consumer choices. Worse, focusing on unfounded or trivial risks frequently
means that real threats to public health go unnoticed. For example:
Love Canal: In 1976, reports of high rates of illness and birth defects surfaced in Love Canal, a community near Niagara Falls. During the 1940s, Love Canal was a site for industrial and chemical waste disposal. In response to the complaints, the EPA conducted two studies that suggested chromosome damage and peripheral nerve damage among residents of Love Canal. But the studies were flawed as they were not peer-reviewed, had errors in statistical analysis, included very small sample sizes, and drew conclusions that were not supported by the evidence. At the same, time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association (AMA) conducted studies of their own showing no abnormalities among Love Canal residents. Despite the CDC and AMA studies, 2,500 residents were "temporarily relocated" at a cost of over $3 million. The temporary relocation became permanent and ultimately cost over $30 million. Worse yet, this scare led to the creation of Superfund, a federal toxic waste site clean-up program. Over $16.3 billion has been spent on the program, but only a small fraction of 1,500 waste sites have been cleaned up. One third of Superfund expenditures have been spent on legal fees and red tape.
Red Dye #2: For the better part of the 20th century, Red Dye #2
(RD#2) was the most widely used food coloring. Then in the 1970s, the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) was prompted to study the possible health
effects of the dye after several studies with questionable findings were
released. Midway through the FDA's study the test groups were mixed up,
rendering the results scientifically worthless. Nevertheless, because of
intense political pressure, the FDA attempted to draw conclusions from the
botched study and subsequently revoked RD#2's provisional approval. Ironically,
RD#2 was replaced by the more expensive Red Dye #40, which had not undergone
nearly the amount of rigorous testing RD#2 had.
Information from the American Council on Science and Health's Special
Report, "Facts Versus Fears: A Review of the 20 Greatest Unfounded
Health Scares of Recent Times," May, 1997.
Issue Date: January 2, 1998
Talking Points on the Economy: Environment #35, published by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct NE, Washington, D.C. 20001 Tel. (202) 507-6398, Fax (301) 498-1301, [email protected], http://www.nationalcenter.org.
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