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The title of this post is the 1st line of The Cancer Lobby, Sunday's New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof.

He uses the example of formaldehyde, describing our various encounters with it, and reminding us that it causes cancer. He then writes:

The chemical industry is working frantically to suppress that scientific consensus — because it fears “public confusion.” Big Chem apparently worries that you might be confused if you learned that formaldehyde caused cancer of the nose and throat, and perhaps leukemia as well.

The industry’s strategy is to lobby Congress to cut off money for the Report on Carcinogens, a 500-page consensus document published every two years by the National Institutes of Health, containing the best information about what agents cause cancer. If that sounds like shooting the messenger, well, it is.

And that is the key - restricting the flow of information that might potentially affect their profits.  We have seen it in many areas, notably in the refusal of drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they inject during the fracking process, claiming that it is proprietary information.

And to put it bluntly, as Kristof does:

The larger issue is whether the federal government should be a watchdog for public health, or a lap dog for industry. When Mitt Romney denounces President Obama for excessive regulation, these are the kinds of issues at stake.
Please keep reading.

I am now 66.  I grew up in a period where we were not necessarily told the contents of products that we consumed.  Some of the benefits we got from the 1960s came about because of the insistence of the American people that we were entitled to know more about the products we were purchasing -  those we consumed in food and drink, put on our bodies in terms of cosmetics.  We have over time been able to pressure corporations into disclosing fat and sodium content, both critical to some for their health.  

All of this is the result of appropriate government regulation.  So are laws against dumping things into our water supply, or pollution the air we all breathe.

When someone argues against regulation claiming it costs too much, ask if the cost of human lives that will be lost or damaged absent that regulation are not in fact a far greater cost.

When I was a child, Saturday morning television was flooded with ads for candy and toys of dubious quality, attempting to influence children to be demanding consumers.  Similarly, we regularly saw advertisements, including from well-known athletes, for tobacco products.

Tobacco consumption is way down since such advertisements were banned.  The American people are healthier as a result, and our economy benefits from the cancers avoided by lower consumption of an addictive and destructive product.

The chemical industry is lobbying hard to prevent further release of the Report on Carcinogens.  Kristof notes that Montana Republican Rep. Rehberg, now running against Sen. Tester in a highly competitive race, is the person carrying water on this for the chemical industry.

THis is not being anti-science out of ignorance.  It is a deliberate attempt to suppress scientific information that might interfere with corporate profits, even at a time when corporate profits are at near all-time highs.

Kristof writes directly:  

Let’s be clear. There is uncertainty about toxic chemicals, and it is perfectly legitimate to criticize the Report on Carcinogens. But this effort to defund the report is an insult to science and democracy alike.
an insult to science and democracy alike - keep that in mind.

Kristof points out the attempts of the chemical industry to push back on formaldehyde mirror the previous efforts on asbestos.  As he writes in his penultimate paragraph

The basic strategy is an old one. As David Michaels notes in his book “Doubt Is Their Product,” the first evidence that asbestos causes cancer emerged in the 1930s. But three decades later, industry executives were still railing about “ill-informed and exaggerated” press reports, still covering up staggering cancer rates, and still denouncing regulation of asbestos as “premature.” Huge numbers of Americans today are dying as a result.
How many lives are corporate profits worth?  

Or as Kristof asks with his final words:

Do we really want to go through that again?
I surely don't.

Which is why I support aggressive regulation.

It is also why I support full disclosure of risks to the public, regardless of what the relevant industries might think.

It is why I want scientists, not corporate lobbyists, making the decisions about the release of information.

It is yet another a reason why I am voting Democratic this fall.

What about you?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 12:56:15 PM PDT

  •  Think of It This Way (9+ / 0-)

    Back before WWII, it was being considered whether to allow tetraethyl lead to be added as an anti-knock compound to gasoline.  People already knew that lead was toxic, but the dean of the Harvard School of Public Health testified that putting lead in gasoline would have no effect on public health because exposure levels would be "low."

    By the end of the 1970's the average lead level in Americans was around 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of whole blood.  This was largely due to leaded gasoline.

    With that as a background level, it was very difficult to measure the effects of low-level lead exposure because it was almost impossible to find a large enough group to study that had very low levels of lead in their blood.

    After lead was outlawed for use in gasoline, lead levels dropped precipitously.  They are now on the order of 2.5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Many, many studies have now been done on the effects that low level exposure to lead has on the intelligence of children.

    There is now scientific consensus that a child younger than six loses close to one IQ point per microgram of lead per deciliter of blood.  This effect levels off at around seven micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

    In other words, partly as a result of the testimony of the dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, ON A SOCIETY WIDE BASIS, children lost between five and seven IQ points.

    What this meant was that the entire bell-shaped curve of intelligence distribution was shifted to the left.  This meant an almost fifty percent increase in the number of "special needs" children -- kids with an IQ < 80 -- and a corresponding 50% decrease in "gifted" kids -- those with IQ's greater than 120.

    Aside from the immorality of what was done to everyone of my and my parents' generation, the costs to our society in terms of lost productivity and increased need for care are almost incalculable.  

    Recent research shows that across every society studied -- Japan, U.S., Europe, Australia -- crime rates dropped with a 24 year lag after lead was outlawed in gasoline.

    This was brought to us by the corruption of scientists by the auto industry.  As Nick Kristoff notes, some things never change.

    This aggression will not stand, man.

    by kaleidescope on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 01:30:39 PM PDT

  •  I was shocked to learn (2+ / 0-)

    that there is there is not complete testing of all chemicals before they released in the marketplace.

    Why not?

    •  Too expensive. (0+ / 0-)

      And what do you test for? There are so many, many things that can be tested for that you can only effectively look at a small number.

      Further, there are a lot of chemicals that are "grandfathered" in because they've been in common use for decades, or are major components of commonly used natural products.

  •  Um, pretty much everybody I presume (2+ / 0-)

    considering that the bulk of carcinogens that people are exposed to come from fossil fuels and food - both of which are highly subsidized by the federal government . ..

  •  Because the testing on chemicals (4+ / 0-)

    of any sort is so controversial and riddled with inaccuracy and corruption, and yet most people have the sense that any chemical now on the market is safe, I am planning a diary on the history of research on tobacco and how its effects continued to be censored out of news reports, even in the recent past. People can and do argue about the legitimacy of product testing done by the industries that produce them; I felt it was easier to review how the ill effects of tobacco were suppressed rather than argue directly how current products could be in the same category.
    Thanks for this diary. Kristof has been at the forefront of bringing these problems to light.

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 02:54:01 PM PDT

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