By Mike Verespej, Plastics News Staff
Washington DC -- A conference call to address what one scientific group calls "Chemophobia-or an irrational fear of chemicals in the US" -- underscores the challenge the industry faces in convincing people and the media that chemicals are safer than the headlines generated by anti-chemical groups.
"What most people don't understand is that most everything is made up of chemicals," said Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, during an 18 Jan conference call that was cut short because of only three media representatives and a paucity of questions.
"It is only the dose that makes the poison. You cannot live chemical-free in the United States," said Whelan, who founded ACSH in 1978 to add reason and balance to debates about public health issues and bring common sense views to the public.
ACSH held the conference call in an attempt to help change how the public perceives chemical risk, and to bring attention to its new position paper, "Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health," which was written by Jon Entine, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former producer at NBC News and ABC News.
"Synthetic chemicals are essential for modern life," Entine wrote. "But our views of them are conflicted.
"We rely on chemicals to improve human health. Pharmaceuticals keep us healthy. Plastics are found in everything from toys to cars to medical supplies. Pesticides and herbicides boost food production and quality. It's impossible to conceive of life in the 21st century without the materials and fuels that synthetic chemicals have made possible," he wrote.
"But from soap to sunscreens, drugs to DDT, we are faced with an endless stream of confusing messages about the safety of chemicals we come in contact with everyday," he said. "The synthetic ingredients that make up many products suggest the unknown, and many of us … process that as fear."
"Belief in the relative benefits of chemicals, trust in the industries that produce them, and confidence in government regulators has never been lower," Entine said. "Considering the conflicting narratives, the public has difficulty distinguishing between useful and benign substances in products and those that could pose dangers when misused. The chemophobia epidemic keeps gaining momentum."
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