EWG: Fearmongering at its Finest

The Environmental Working Group’s new report on chemicals unleashed a firestorm of fear across the Internet today after announcing 420 carcinogenic chemicals had been found in humans. Reporters and bloggers further stoked fears by reposting, without properly analyzing, the sensationally titled “The Pollution in People: Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Americans’ Bodies.”

Unsurprisingly, the report was skimpy on the science and loaded with shameless ploys to scare people.

Since we expected this report would be bad news, our own Dr. Joe Perrone broke it down to help the public keep agenda-driven NGO’s, like EWG, accountable:

  • Shock and Awe — The power of the report comes from the apparently large number of chemicals presented. At first, 420 does seem like a lot. But that’s because we don’t live our lives thinking about atoms and chemicals all day. For instance, did you know just one cup of coffee contains over 100 chemicals? Odds are no, which goes to show that weighing risks based on the number of chemicals can be misleading.

  • Dose Makes the Poison – EWG didn’t mention the exposure required for these to be dangerous to humans. For example, acrylamide, produced when certain foods are cooked, was in the report, but you’d have to eat 182 pounds of french fries every day to consume levels of acrylamide known to cause cancer.
  • What isn’t a chemical? – Nothing, of course, but try telling the EWG—it seems astounded at the fact there are 85,000 chemicals on the market. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Did you know your smart phone is made of 41 elements? That’s not even counting compounds. So unless you’re afraid of cell phones, you don’t have much to worry about.

Although these points come from this particular report, the same ideas apply to any study claiming to be scientific. So keep these in mind, or learn how to evaluate a study because if EWG does one thing well, it’s pump out sensationalism devoid of solid science.