We Have But One Thing to Fear: Fear Itself (Part I)

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:

Love Canal: In 1976, reports of high rates of illness and birth defects surfaced in Love Canal, a community near Niagara Falls. During the 1940s, Love Canal was a site for industrial and chemical waste disposal. In response to the complaints, the EPA conducted two studies that suggested chromosome damage and peripheral nerve damage among residents of Love Canal. But the studies were flawed as they were not peer-reviewed, had errors in statistical analysis, included very small sample sizes, and drew conclusions that were not supported by the evidence. At the same, time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association (AMA) conducted studies of their own showing no abnormalities among Love Canal residents. Despite the CDC and AMA studies, 2,500 residents were “temporarily relocated” at a cost of over $3 million. The temporary relocation became permanent and ultimately cost over $30 million. Worse yet, this scare led to the creation of Superfund, a federal toxic waste site clean-up program. Over $16.3 billion has been spent on the program, but only a small fraction of 1,500 waste sites have been cleaned up. One third of Superfund expenditures have been spent on legal fees and red tape.

Red Dye #2: For the better part of the 20th century, Red Dye #2 (RD#2) was the most widely used food coloring. Then in the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was prompted to study the possible health effects of the dye after several studies with questionable findings were released. Midway through the FDA’s study the test groups were mixed up, rendering the results scientifically worthless. Nevertheless, because of intense political pressure, the FDA attempted to draw conclusions from the botched study and subsequently revoked RD#2’s provisional approval. Ironically, RD#2 was replaced by the more expensive Red Dye #40, which had not undergone nearly the amount of rigorous testing RD#2 had.

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.