Chemical Risk202-331-1010 • www.cei.org • Competitive Enterprise Institute
even exists. They contend that the old way of thinking was correct: many chemicals are safeunder a given threshold or exposure level, witheach chemical having its own threshold:Scientist Philip Abelson notes that the “error
in this approach is becoming increasinglyapparent through experiments that pro-duce data that do not fit the linear model.”Indeed, he argues, “Pharmacologists havelong stated that it is the dose that makes thepoison.”
Others note that the low-dose linearity
model ignores the fact that the human bodymay create defense mechanisms againstchemicals when we are exposed to them atlow doses, which means low-level exposuresmight help us fight off cancer and other ill-nesses. Scientist Jay Lehr notes that studieshave found cases in which people exposedto low-levels of radiation actually experi-enced less incidence of leukemia than thegeneral population, whereas highly exposedindividuals experienced elevated rates of leukemia.
Another study found that increasing levels
of low-level radon exposure are linked to
Increasingly, the idea that all chemicals are
unsafe at any level is losing credibility.
4. Philip Abelson, “Radon Today: The Role of Flimflamin Public Policy,”
14, no. 4 (1991): 97.5. Jay Lehr, “Good News about Radon: The LinearNonthreshold Model Is Wrong,” Environmental Educa-tion Enterprises, Ostrander, OH, May 1996, http://www.junkscience.com/news/lehr.html.6. Bernard L. Cohen, “Test of the Linear–No Thresh-old Theory of Radiation Carcinogenesis for Inhaled Ra-don Decay Products,”
68, no. 2 (1995):157–74.7. For a discussion of thresholds, see James D. Wilson,“Thresholds for Carcinogens: A Review of the RelevantScience and Its Implications for Regulatory Policy,” in
fact, the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency (EPA) proposed a rule that wouldhave applied threshold assumptions in1998. When the EPA reversed its position,a federal court vacated the rule becausethe EPA did not use the best peer-reviewedscience as required by the Safe DrinkingWater Act.
Mice, Men, and Carcinogens
When environmentalists and governmentagencies label chemicals as carcinogens, theyoften point to rodent tests. However, the testshave been proven seriously flawed. They entailadministering massive amounts of chemicals torodents bred to be highly susceptible to cancer.Then researchers extrapolate the possible ef-fects of such chemicals on humans, who may beexposed to small amounts of the same chemicalover their lifetimes.First, we should ask, “Are the impacts onrodents relevant to humans?” Doll and Petonote that some chemicals found to be carcino-genic in humans have not produced canceroustumors in rodent experiments. In fact, for manyyears, cigarette smoke failed to produce malig-nant tumors in laboratory animals even thoughtobacco is perhaps the leading cause of cancerin the United States. These discordant effects of chemicals in animals and humans underline thedifficulty of relying on animal results to esti-mate human risks.
Second, researchers question whether theextremely high doses administered in the lab
ed. Roger Bate
(Boston: Butterworth Heine-mann, 1997), 3–36.8. See the policy brief titled “Safe Drinking WaterOverview.”9. Doll and Peto, “The Causes of Cancer,” 1192–308.