Jon Entine’s book — Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health — is simply the best history of American “chemophobia” ever written. It is comprehensive, yet brief, uncomplicated, clear and persuasive — a must-read for anyone on the fence about America’s over reaction to all the chemicals that have actually advanced the human condition.
While scientists may scoff at the implication that chemicals are inherently dangerous, such stories are the calling cards of many advocacy campaigns, and are given credence by the media. The hard evidence suggests Americans have never been safer when it comes to exposure to chemicals and drugs, yet many people mistakenly believe we face more environmental hazards now than any time in history. In fact, the opposite is true.
Americans’ chemophobia is partially true due, as Entine points out, to the abysmal level of scientific education in the United States. People have no clue as to the relationship between chemical concentration and its attendant benefit or hazard. Surprisingly, even the author falls into this trap by casting aspersions on a new book on cosmetics that simply describes chemicals in cosmetics without claiming their potential damage, but simply their inherent uselessness.
Entine points out that less than one tenth of one percent of chemicals tested for use in our environment receive ultimate government approval. The hoops they must pass through truly do ensure public health. Yet Entine tells us that surveys show that concern over chemicals in our environment create greater concern than child neglect, alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy.
The author charts every imagined environmental disaster such as Times Beach and Love Canal, every law that has been passed — and, of course, the impact of the terribly flawed book Silent Spring. Best of all, Entine unveils the manner in which the federal EPA determines how Maximum Contaminant Levels are determined for all human exposures — making clear that one could comfortably consume a hundred times more of most chemicals without fearing negative impacts. He also points out how many chemicals and drugs are withheld from society when their benefits far outweigh their risk.
Entine’s book explains how supposed endocrine disruption is used to fraudulently block the use of chemicals for fear they may have impacts on people generations down the line — which of course can not be readily disproven. Likewise, he casts a clear light on the mistaken belief that any natural chemical is safer than a manufactured chemical — and thus there are no inherent health advantages to organic food.
Chemophobia has definitely crept around the world. It is now used to create trade barriers against various foods and products — using fear of their make-up as a cause not to let them into a country. By now, everyone has heard of the controversy over bisphenol. It has been used in plastics and resins for over 50 years with no proven harm, yet environmental advocacy groups have never ceased to demonize it. Banning bisphenol, however, would throw a monkey wrench into the gears of human progress — which is undoubtedly the aim of these groups.
Entine explains this fallacious controversy elegantly, casting a light on the groups waging this deceitful war against progress. The American Council on Science and Health is to be congratulated for making this excellent report available to the public.