Desperate Activists, Desperate Ads

Americans are focused on serious national security and economic issues. In the face of these real concerns, environmental activists sadly have geared up another myth-fueled, public relations effort to alarm us about chemicals.

In the past two months, the enviros have placed seven full-page ads in The New York Times -- more than $500,000 worth of newspaper space.

The ominous ads purport to link learning disabilities, childhood brain cancer and male infertility with manmade chemicals. "Toxic" chemicals are passed on to infants via breast milk, the ads claim. They also allege chemicals are inadequately tested before use is permitted.

As far as I can tell, though, what really needs to be tested is the ads for truth and Mt. Sinai for being contaminated with unscrupulous activism.

One ad screams, "More kids are getting brain cancer" followed by "Toxic chemicals appear linked to rising rates of some [childhood] cancers."

What's omitted from mention is that, to the extent there has been any increase in rates of childhood cancer over the past 20 years, it's more credibly attributed to changes in detection and reporting of childhood cancers, according to analyses published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

There's no reason to believe there's been a true increase in childhood cancer rates, much less that chemicals in the environment are somehow involved.

Another ad misleadingly blares, "Toxic chemicals are being passed on to infants in breast milk."

Yes, traces of many chemicals can be detected with modern technology in breast milk. This does not mean that these chemicals or breast milk are dangerous. A basic tenet of toxicology is "the dose makes the poison."

All substances -- even pure breast milk itself -- may be toxic. But exposure must be sufficiently high to produce an adverse health effect. A little bit of aspirin cures your headache; too much kills you.

An ad picturing a smiling little girl is titled: "She's the test subject for thousands of toxic chemicals. Why?"

But our children are not guinea pigs. Chemicals are extensively tested on animals before use is allowed. Each pesticide, for example, is put through a battery of 120 tests.

The ad suggests that industrial chemicals should be tested -- like pharmaceutical products -- on humans. Ironically, the enviros led the charge to have such human testing essentially banned by the Environmental Protection Agency.

All the ads urge parents to eliminate pesticides both outside and in the home.

The enviros apparently believe it much safer and healthier to let your home be overrun by cockroaches and flies and to let your children be stung by wasps and hornets. Do we even need to mention the recent spate of deaths and illness caused by mosquitoes bearing West Nile virus?

The ads allude to a "summary of supporting scientific evidence" and a "list of scientific endorsers" available on the ad campaign's Web site. The so-called "scientific evidence" is mostly a list of studies done by well-known anti-chemical activist-researchers and activist groups such as Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The list of scientific endorsers reads like the Who's Who of junk science. My favorite "endorser" is the University of Pittsburgh's Herbert Needleman -- notorious for his work supposedly linking low levels of lead exposure in children with lower IQs.

Pitt once investigated Needleman for scientific misconduct concerning his lead research and found that he engaged in "deliberate misrepresentation" and "substandard science." A federal investigation found his work "difficult to explain as honest error."

Running the ad campaign is Fenton Communications -- the PR firm of choice for anti-chemical activists. Fenton is best known for flacking the bogus scares involving the chemical Alar and apples, and silicone breast implants.

Fenton, of course, is not mentioned in the ads. New York's Mt. Sinai School of Medicine -- its reputation, that is -- is being used to front the ad campaign.

Fenton drafts the ads, featuring the Mt. Sinai logo, and sends them for approval to Mt. Sinai's Dr. Philip Landrigan, a dodgy activist-researcher in cahoots with the PR firm.

The ads aren't really approved by Mt. Sinai, per se, just Landrigan. And although the ads prominently feature apparent Mt. Sinai sponsorship, the fine print at the bottom of the campaign's Web site disclaims the ads' views as "not necessarily those" of Mt. Sinai.

The newspaper ads, of course, omit the disclaimer.

Our focus on urgent matters since Sep. 11 has left the enviros and their silliness in the dust. No doubt their fundraising has taken quite a hit. We can expect them to become more shrill and deceptive as they become more irrelevant.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of , an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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