Talking Points on the Environment #35: We Have But One Thing to Fear: Fear Itself (Part II)

Over the past several decades, the American people have been manipulated by a handful of scientists outside the mainstream to fear safe products that improve their quality of life. Products have been removed from the market, banned, or heavily regulated due to unfounded claims that they pose serious risks to human health. Regulating and restricting such products comes at a high price: Increased prices, fewer job opportunities, and fewer consumer choices. Worse, focusing on unfounded or trivial risks frequently means that real threats to public health go unnoticed. For example:


Synthetic Estrogen: Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic form of estrogen that was used to prevent pregnancy complications for women and as a growth hormone for cattle. In 1971, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that a rare form of cancer was found in young women whose mothers had taken high doses of DES during pregnancy. In response, the FDA banned DES as a growth hormone for cattle in 1972. But in banning the hormone for use in cattle, FDA failed to consider that a woman would have to eat 62.5 tons of beef liver to consume the amount of DES contained in the pills taken by the mothers who ingested high doses of DES. Consequently, several tons of corn and grain had to be reallocated for feeding cattle. This was corn and grain that could have been used to feed under-nourished people throughout the world.

Cellular Telephones: Two years after David Reynard of Tampa, Florida gave his wife a cellular telephone, she was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, located just behind her right ear, the ear she normally used while talking on her cellular phone. After her death, Reynard sued the phone’s manufacturer, alleging that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from the phone caused the tumor. His subsequent appearance on CNN’s Larry King Show led to a national outcry against cellular phones and calls for new regulations and mandates. The Cellular Phone Trade Association even pledged $25 million for safety research. Yet, Reynard’s claim turned out to be based on anecdotal rather than scientific evidence, and there has yet to be a scientific study finding a link between cellular phones and brain tumors.

DDT: During the 1940s, dichlorodiphenyltrich- loroethane (DDT) was found to be an effective insecticide with no apparent effects on humans. Then in 1970, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to phase out most uses of DDT after a study was released showing that mice fed DDT had higher rates of leukemia and liver tumors than mice not fed the substance. Shortly after the ban, several new studies were released showing no significant relationship between DDT exposure and liver cancer and leukemia in animals. Unfortunately, it turned out that instead of saving human lives, the DDT ban cost them. For example, after DDT use ceased in Sri Lanka, malaria cases rose from 17 in 1963 to 2.5 million in 1969, a whopping 147,000% increase in just six years. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, malaria would have been virtually eliminated if DDT use had continued.

Information from the American Council on Science and Health’s Special Report, “Facts Versus Fears: A Review of the 20 Greatest Unfounded Health Scares of Recent Times,” May, 1997.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.