SIRC – Media Watch 20-04-99

More U-Turns


Time magazine recently published an apology for a misinformed health scare diatribe entitled Poisonous Plastics? that appeared in the March 1 edition. The original article, written by Jeffrey Kluger, linked the use of phthalates (chemical softening agents) in the production of PVC with a risk of damage to liver, heart and testicles. The most prevalent sites of contamination? IV bags and, surprisingly enough, children’s toys. With the infrastructure of the perfect health scare now firmly in place, section two of the how to cause national panic manual was also followed to the letter. The suppositions on which the article was based were not centred on scientific fact but rather focused on the quotes of health activists whose agendas were at the time not made entirely clear, a balance that Michael Fumento (Hudson Institute) eloquently redresses in Safe Plastics, Poisonous Journalism. (Time Magazine, March 22) "we should have made it clear that the fears about ill effects [of PVC & phthalates] are countered by strong evidence to the contrary". Not to be outdone however, The Sunday Times this week reported on an American scientist’s study that implies an association between large concentrations of certain phthalates (DEHP) and birth defects in rats.

Biodegradable science

In 1976 the US Congress banned the manufacture and use of PCBs, a decision based largely on the findings of one Renate Kimbrough M.D. whose research for the Centrers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a link between large doses of PCBs and liver cancer in lab rats. What heightened the initial concerns surrounding these compound’s safety were the slow degrading properties that PCBs exhibited. Twenty-four years on and much legislation later, Kimbrough’s latest study has found no actual association between human exposure to PCBs and deaths from cancer or any other disease.

Initial concerns that mercury from amalgam dental fillings could be absorbed into the body have been dispelled somewhat this week by a study conducted at the University of North Carolina. Concentrating on the mercury levels found in baby canine teeth – thought to be the most accurate predictor of long term mercury exposure – it found no link between the number of fillings a child had and the amount of mercury in the teeth.