Soaking in Chemical Stews
by

WASHINGTON — Among the mainstream media it is axiomatic: If you’re an environmentalist you’re as close to sainthood as you’ll ever get in this life. Maybe you’re a convicted charlatan serving ten years for cheating widows out of their pensions. But dub yourself an environmentalist and MSM skepticism evaporates like water on a hot Texas rock.

Case in point: a recent story from Reuters. Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent, notes that scientists have found chemicals in umbilical cord blood. She begins her story thusly:

Unborn U.S. babies are soaking in a stew of chemicals, including mercury, gasoline byproducts and pesticides, according to a report released on Thursday.

I can’t understand why Ms. Fox persists in beating around the bush. Why not just say, “According to a new study, a baby’s umbilical cord might as well be a gas pump hose”? At least that way we would know exactly what she’s getting at.

After that impartial opening, what follows is no surprise:

Although the effects on the babies are not clear, the survey prompted several members of Congress to press for legislation that would strengthen controls on chemicals in the environment.

Who can doubt there ought to be a law when the MSM shills for environmentalist scaremongers?

The next paragraph identifies the puppet master behind Reuter’s propaganda:

The report by the Environmental Working Group is based on tests of 10 samples of umbilical-cord blood taken by the American Red Cross. They found an average of 287 contaminants in the blood, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical PFOA.

As a dutiful member of the MSM, Reuters doesn’t bother to mention that the sole purpose of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to promote health scares based on junk science. As Bonner Cohen put it in a piece for the Capital Research Center:

By now, the EWG modus operandi is predictable. The group releases a “study,” which concludes that exposure to an everyday item — baby food, cosmetics, mother’s milk, tap water, fruit and vegetables — poses a risk to human health. The study then follows the model that the Natural Resources Defense Council and Fenton Communications developed for the 1989 Alar scare: EWG “findings” typically show that children are most at risk by exposure to the substance in question. The study is then released at a press conference, often arranged by Fenton Communications, with all the trappings of a major scientific breakthrough.

For example, in 1995 an EWG “study” purported to show that popular brands of baby foods contained human carcinogens, neurotoxins and pesticides. EWG neglected to report that the amount of man-made chemicals in the baby food were minuscule (barely .01 percent) and that the other chemicals occurred naturally — they were plants’ natural defense mechanisms against insects, disease, and microbes. According to Cohen:

Professor Bruce Ames, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, described EWG’s baby food study as “…an attempt to scare parents over something that is no threat to their children’s health.”

The current EWG study is called “Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns,” and it is another bonanza of junk science. Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health states, “EWG has taken substances known to be a toxin or carcinogen in high-dose animal experiments, disregarded the actual concentration, and used it for a scare campaign. They’ve ignored one of the sound principles of toxicology: the dose makes the poison. Any substance can be toxic at a high enough dose.”

The actual data in the report makes this clear. For example, EWG claims methyl mercury at 58 parts per billion (ppb) in the mother’s blood during pregnancy “causes measurable declines in brain function in children.” Yet the tests EWG ran on umbilical cord blood found no level of methyl mercury higher than 2.3 ppb.

EWG also notes increases in various health problems, including asthma, autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, childhood brain cancer and acute lymphatic leukemia. “Scientists cannot fully explain these increases, but early life exposure to environmental pollutants is a leading suspect,” the report warns ominously. Dr. Ross responds, “To imagine that such tiny concentrations of the chemicals cause childhood diseases boggles the mind. It doesn’t make physiological sense.” A likelier explanation is that diagnostic techniques are increasingly sophisticated, enabling medicine to more quickly identify illnesses. As Dr. Ross puts it, “We saw a spike in breast cancer in the 1970s. Was that due to some pollutant? No. It was due to the introduction of mammograms which enabled doctors to identify tumors long before they spread.”

Yet Reuters didn’t bother to interview skeptics like Dr. Ross. Overall, balanced media treatment of the issue has been hit-or-miss. The Associated Press sought out industry responses from the American Chemistry Council. The Washington Post did not.

Of course, the MSM failed to do the research that would reveal the lucrative character of EWG scaremongering. For the “Body Burden Project,” EWG raised $400,000 from the New York City-based Beldon Fund (in 2002-2003) and $350,000 from the California-based Marisla Fund (2001). An additional $350,000 came from Marisla in 2002 for “environmental health research.” In 2001 the (Ted) Turner Foundation also chipped in $75,000 for EWG to study the effect of environmental toxins on women and children.

It’s tough to get the MSM to give an objective picture whenever an “environmentalist” has a story to tell. The recent shenanigans of EWG shows how little progress is being made in getting an even break from the media.

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