Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

 

Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on 12 December 2000, that "contrary to EPA assertions, there is no credible evidence that PCB exposure in the general environment, in fish, or even at very high levels in the workplace, has ever led to an increase in cancer risk."

Whelan says she asked the National Cancer Institute "Does NCI have any evidence that eating fish from the Hudson River contributes to the toll of human cancer?" and then quotes the National Cancer Institute's director of communications, Susan Sieber, as having said that the NCI knows of "no evidence" that eating fish from the Hudson River posed a human cancer risk." Whelan is not the only industry apologist writing misleading op-eds on the health risks of chemicals.
Try: Michael Fumento in Forbes or the WSJ, Gregg Easterbrook in The New Republic or Steven Safe in the WSJ or the New England Journal of Medicine.

 

That would seem to do it. Eating fish from the Hudson River must be safe... until one looks more carefully at what Whelan asked, how Sieber responded, and what evidence there actually is about the health risks of PCBs.

Whelan asked about evidence on the cancer risks of eating fish from the Hudson River. There have been none from the Hudson River that prove cancer risks. But there have been studies elsewhere of PCBs, consumed in fish as well as accumulated through other diets, that show significant health risks, both to cancer as well as to other health endpoints. Whelan's question was cleverly worded and the answer then misleadingly conveyed. These studies done elsewhere are directly relevant to the health risks of people eating PCB-contaminated fish in the Hudson. Whelan's sleight-of-hand to avoid acknowledging these other studies is nothing short of deceitful.

Data from the National Cancer Institute itself, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control, established in 1997 a very strong cancer risk for PCB exposure. This paper, summarized elsewhere within www.OurStolenFuture.org, reveals that PCBs interacting with Epstein-Barr virus elevate the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a hormone-related cancer, by over 20-fold. NHL is one of the cancers that has been increasing steadily in the United States over the past 2 decades. By itself, the virus appears to have little impact on NHL risk. PCBs by themselves elevate the risk only modestly (but significantly). Together, however, the impact on risk is dramatic.

Whelan's dismissal of PCB-related health risks also ignores significant PCB impacts on cognitive and immune system function of children exposed in the womb. Her debating technique of ignoring these impacts may be effective for readers who have heard only about the cancer risks of environmental contamination, but it is dishonest. The studies have been published in major scientific outlets, including Science, the New England Journal of Medicine, and Environmental Health Perspectives. Any public health science expert working on contamination cannot help but be aware of them. Whelan's failure to mention them confirms her biases as a GE apologist, not a disinterested commentator on public health science.

[The two links in the preceding paragraph are to two specific, recent studies. More general coverage of contamination effects on neurological and immunological development can be found at "Brain and Behavior" and "Disease Resistance," respectively.]

 

 

 
     

 

 

 

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