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Angela Logomasini - Environmental Source Chemical Overview

Angela Logomasini - Environmental Source Chemical Overview

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Published by: Competitive Enterprise Institute on Dec 03, 2010
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202-331-1010 www.cei.org Competitive Enterprise Institute
Chemical Risk Overview
 Angela Logomasini
Worldwide, the average human life span hasincreased from about 30 years at the beginningof the 20th century to more than 60 years today,and it continues to rise.
In the United States, ithas reached 76 years according to a recent es-timate (figure 1).
The freedom to develop andput to use thousands of man-made chemicalshas played a crucial role in that progress bymaking possible such things as pharmaceuti-cals, safe drinking water, and pest control.
1. Nicholas Eberstadt, “World Population Prospectsfor the Twenty-First Century: The Specter of ‘Depopula-tion’?” in
Earth Report 2000
, ed. Ronald Bailey (NewYork: McGraw Hill, 2000), 65.2. U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Census Bureau,
Health, United States, 2000: Adolescent Health Chart-book
(Washington, DC: Centers for Disease Control andPrevention, 2000), 7, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/ hus00cht.pdf.
Yet the public perception is that man-madechemicals are the source of every possible ill,from cancer to ozone depletion and from in-fertility to brain damage. Ignoring that natureproduces far more chemicals at far higher doses
 and that most chemicals are innocuous at lowdoses, activists capitalize on those fears. Theyscare the public by hyping the risks to ensurethat the government passes volumes of lawsand regulations focused on eliminating chemi-cals without much regard for the tradeoffs.Advocates of such limits want the govern-ment to make sure every chemical is safe before
3. Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold, “Envi-ronmental Pollution, Pesticides, and the Prevention of Cancer: Misconceptions,”
FASEB Journal 
11, no. 13(1997): 1041–52, http://socrates.berkeley.edu/mutagen// AmesGold.pdf.
The Environmental SourceCompetitive Enterprise Institute www.cei.org 202-331-1010
exposing the public. In his 2000 book
Pando-ra’s Poison
, Greenpeace’s Joe Thornton calls onsociety to follow the “precautionary principle,”which says “we should avoid practices thathave the potential to cause severe damage, evenin the absence of scientific proof of harm.
Weshould shift the burden of proof, he continues.Those individuals or firms introducing newchemicals must prove the chemicals are safebefore introducing them into commerce, andthose chemicals already in commerce which failto meet this standard “should be phased out infavor of safer alternatives.”
 The problem is that no one can ever provethat anything is 100 percent safe. Not surpris-ingly, Thornton also advocates a “zero dis-charge” policy, which calls for the elimination of all bioaccumulative chemicals
. In particular, he
4. Joe Thornton,
Pandora’s Poison: Chlorine, Health,and a New Environmental Strategy
(Cambridge, MA:MIT Press, 2000), 10.5. Ibid.6. For more information on bioaccumulative chemicals,see Michael Kamrin,
Traces of Environmental Chemicalsin the Human Body: Are They a Risk to Health
? (New
has long called for the elimination of chlorine.
magazine quotes him as noting: “Thereare no known uses for chlorine which we re-gard as safe.”
Perhaps in recognition that thisstandard is politically untenable, he suggestedthat chlorine use be continued for “some phar-maceuticals” and some “water disinfection,” butonly until other options become available.
The Dangers of Precaution
But before we call for zero discharge of any-thing, we should think about what that means.Like anything, chemicals may create new risks,but they have been used to eliminate others—many of which wreaked havoc on civilizationfor centuries. As the Competitive EnterpriseInstitute’s Fred Smith notes, “Experience dem-onstrates that the risks of innovation, while real,are vastly less than risks of stagnation.”
Indeed,he asks, what would the world be like if medi-cal researchers had never introduced penicillinbecause they could not prove it was 100 percentsafe?
Chemicals Transform OurEveryday Lives
York: American Council on Science and Health, 2003).http://www.acsh.org/docLib/20041110_traces_2003.pdf 
7. Ivan Amato, “The Crusade against Chlorine,”
261, no. 5118 (1993): 153. For more informationon chlorine issues, see Michelle Malkin and Michael Fu-mento,
Rachel’s Folly: The End of Chlorine
(Washington,DC: Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1996).8. Thornton,
Pandora’s Poison
, 14.9. Fred L. Smith, “The Dangers of Precaution,”
Euro- pean Voice
6, no. 7 (February 17, 2000): 1, http://www.cei.org/pdf/3845.pdf.
45505560657075802000199019801970196019501990  Year
      A     g     e
Figure 1. Life Expectancy
: National Center for Health Statistics.
Chemical Risk202-331-1010 www.cei.org Competitive Enterprise Institute
Although we don’t think much about them,man-made chemicals are essential to almost ev-erything we do. They make our cars run; theyclean everything from our teeth to our dishes;they reduce illness by disinfecting bathrooms athome and operating rooms in hospitals; theyare used on food products, such as poultry, toeliminate E. coli and other deadly pathogens;and they keep our computers, television sets,and other electronic products running. Con-sider just a few of the critical functions theyperform in making our lives better:Chlorination of water supplies has saved
millions of lives. For example, since localengineers and industry introduced chlori-nation in the 1880s, waterborne-relateddeaths in the United States dropped from75 to 100 deaths per 100,000 people tofewer than 0.1 death per 100,000 annuallyin 1950.
 Rather than curtailing the use of chlorina-
tion as Thornton suggests, we should beexpanding access. According to the WorldHealth Organization, because of such prob-lems as poor sanitation and unsafe drinkingwater diarrheal diseases (such as choleraand dysentery) kill about 2.2 million peoplea year, most of whom are children underfive years of age.
 The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention notes that fluoridation of water(fluoride is yet another chemical targeted by
10. J. Michael LaNier, “Historical Development of Mu-nicipal Water Systems in the United States, 1776–1976,”
 Journal of the American Water Works Association
68,no. 4 (1976): 177.11. “Water-Related Diseases: Diarrhoea,” World HealthOrganization website, http://www.who.int/water_sanita-tion_health/diseases/diarrhoea/en/, access November 29,2007.
environmentalists) has proven a tremendousbenefit for oral hygiene.
Nearly 85 percent of pharmaceuticals cur-
rently in use require chlorine to be used intheir production.
Thanks to chemicals used for pharmaceu-
ticals, combination drug therapy reducedAIDS deaths by more than 70 percentfrom 1994 to 1997.
And more recently,researchers estimated that AIDS drug treat-ments have saved a total of 3 million yearsof life in the United States since 1989.
Fifty percent of the reductions of heart dis-
ease–related deaths between 1980 and 1990(total death rate decline of 30 percent) areattributable to medicines and the chemicalsthat are in them.
12. “Ten Great Public Health Achievements—UnitedStates, 1900–1999,”
Morbidity and Mortality WeeklyReport 
48, no. 12 (1999): 241–43.13. Gordon W. Gribble, “Chlorine and Health: Evaluat-ing Chlorine and Chlorinated Compounds” (New York:American Council on Science and Health,1995), http:// www.healthfactsandfears.net/docLib/20040503_chlo-rine.pdf.14. Frank J. Palella, Kathleen M. Delaney, Anne C. Moor-man, Mark O. Loveless, Jack Fuhrer, Glen A. Satten,Diane J. Aschman, and Scott D. Holmberg, “DecliningMorbidity and Mortality among Patients with AdvancedHIV Infection,”
New England Journal of Medicine
338,no. 13 (1998): 853–60, https://content.nejm.org/cgi/con-tent/abstract/338/13/853.15. Rochelle P. Walensky, et al., “The Survival Benefits of AIDS Treatment in the United States
 ,” Journal of Infec-tious Diseases
194, no. 1 (July 1, 2006): 11–1916. M.G. Hunink, L. Goldman, A. N. Tosteson, M. A.Mittleman, P. A. Goldman, L. W. Williams, J. Tsevat,and M. C. Weinstein, “The Recent Decline in Mortalityfrom Coronary Heart Disease, 1980–1990,”
 Journal of the American Medical Association
277, no. 7 (1997):535–42, abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov:80/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=9032159&dopt=Abstract

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