ACSH’s Top 10 Health Scares of 2014

ACSH’s Top 10 Health Scares of 2014

10.The Food Babe attacks ingredient found in Subway bread

The chemical azodicarbonamide is used in baking as a dough conditioner, meant to improve the strength and workability of the dough, as well as to increase the speed at which the dough rises. It is a common ingredient in bread. Azodicarbonamide is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. FDA, and is thus considered safe to be added to foods.

The scare:
Earlier this year, Subway made the decision to remove azodicarbonamide from its bread in response to a petition started by food blogger Vani Hari, known to her many followers as “The Food Babe.” Her petition was signed by about 77,000 individuals. Subway acknowledged that this ingredient was safe despite their taking action to remove it from their products. They claim that they have developed an improved bread formula that is pending final government approvals.

The hype:
Besides being featured on the FoodBabe’s blog, the story was also picked up by many major media news outlets such as CNN, CBS, USA Today and NBC News. Although many news stories did acknowledge that this move was made in reaction to the FoodBabe’s petition, some headlines were worded to scare consumers including this one: “Food Advocates Call on FDA to Ban Potentially Carcinogenic Bread Additive.”

Even more ridiculous is Hari’s guidance that ”if you can’t spell it or pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it.” It is unclear when spelling became a parameter for toxicological evaluation.

The facts:
Azodicarbonamide has been approved for use as a food additive by the FDA based on a comprehensive review of safety studies. Much of the criticism of azodicarbonamide comes from the fact that it breaks down to semicarbazide which at high levels has been shown to increase incidence of tumors in female mice. However, this effect was not seen in male mice or other rodents and the levels to which the animals were exposed far exceed estimates of human exposure from consumption of azodicarbonamide. In any event, as we here at ACSH often remind our readers, “mice are not little people.”

Bottom line:
This is another example of a company bowing to pressure inspired by some fringe advocate or group, and taken up by social media adherents for no particular reason. And what those applying the pressure never seem to consider is that when one chemical is removed from a product, it may be replaced with another one which may be less-studied. So nothing will have been gained, and another safe and useful product or substance will go down the drain.

9. Formaldehyde found in baby shampoo

Preservatives are commonly used in a wide variety of foods, medicines and personal care products. They are added for exactly one reason: To prevent the growth of pathogens, typically bacteria and fungi, which would contaminate the product. These pathogens can infect people who are exposed to them, or they can cause harm by producing toxins in the product prior to use. Perhaps the most infamous recent example of such harm occurred at the New England Compounding Center in 2012. Batches of a preservative-free injectable steroid were found to be contaminated with at least one fungus. This caused 64 deaths and more than 700 illnesses.

The scare:
A very common preservative called Quaternium-15 was used in Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo. Quaternium-15 acts by decomposing to give formaldehyde, the actual preservative. Various radical environmental and consumer groups latched onto this to concoct a scare that children were being bathed in a toxic, carcinogenic chemical. This is true, but only at very large exposures, such as those encountered by embalmers.

The hype:
Predictably, this scare was very “popular” with the media. Nothing stirs up the public more than any claim—valid or not—that something is poisoning their children. This is not lost on the press. Regardless of the lack of even the slightest hint of evidence, the headlines fly, and the public reacts predictably—even for the most bogus scares.

The business section of The New York Times touted the removal of formaldehyde. This same opinion was parrotted by CBS News, Bloomberg, CNN, The Huffington Post, and many others.

The facts:
As is the case with every chemical on earth, formaldehyde can be toxic. But, the scares industry and the press inevitably disregard the most important parameter in determining toxicity—exposure.

For people who are exposed to large quantities, such as embalmers, formaldehyde is a genuine concern. But to equate this with the minuscule quantities that are found in shampoo is both misleading and totally without scientific merit.

All of us are exposed to formaldehyde on a regular basis. It exists in a wide variety of food, especially fruits and vegetables, as well as ubiquitous products such as plywood, insulation, carpeting, and cosmetics.

And even if we were able to accomplish the impossible—remove all external exposure to formaldehyde—we would still be exposed to it, since it is made in the human body.

Another fact that is omitted by scare mongers is that formaldehyde does not accumulate in the body. It is rapidly metabolized to formic acid, which is then excreted in the urine. In human blood, half of any formaldehyde is gone in five minutes, and all of it gone within an hour.

At typical exposures, formaldehyde poses no threat to human health.

Bottom line:
Scare tactics work very well, and this scare was no exception. Even though Johnson and Johnson maintained that the amount of formaldehyde preservative in the baby shampoo posed no threat to anyone, they nonetheless removed it due to “consumer preference.”

This represented a huge victory for the Environmental Working Group, which proclaimed “Johnson & Johnson is smart and responsible to listen to its customers, because they are overwhelmingly demanding cleaner products.”

But, it would seem that the EWG is blissfully unaware of irony, since, as The Times pointed out, in the new formulation, Quaternium-15 was replaced by three other preservatives—sodium benzoate— a chemical that they formerly attacked as forming the carcinogen benzene in children’s drinks, ethylhexylglycerin,which EWG warns leads to Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs) Organ system toxicity, and phenoxyethanol, which has the exact same warning as ethylhexylglycerin.

It should be evident by now that this is the business model of radical environmental groups: Scares and public pressure used to extort companies to remove a harmless chemical, only to have it replaced by another one. Just as harmless, but new fodder for their cause.

8. Consuming gluten is harmful to health

About three million Americans – less than one percent of the population – have celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder in which the consumption of gluten destroys the lining of the small intestine, impairing the absorption of vitamins, minerals and calories. The only way to manage this disease is to consume a gluten-free diet. According to a report released by the NPD Group, a market research firm that tracks eating trends, eleven percent of US households consume a gluten-free diet, and only 25 percent of those cite celiac disease as the reason. Further emphasizing the growing gluten-free trend, marketing research firm Packaged Facts estimates that sales of gluten-free food will be over $6.6 billion by 2017, increasing from $4.2 billion in 2012.

The scare:
The gluten scare is nothing new. Despite the fact that many people who choose to consume a gluten free diet have no idea what gluten actually is – proteins found in wheat, barley and rye products – they believe that consuming a gluten-free diet is somehow healthier. Some people also believe that consuming gluten makes you gain weight and consuming a gluten-free diet would improve physical or mental well-being. Some also believe that consuming gluten results in acne, infertility, IBS and fatigue.

This message is echoed by numerous celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham, who attribute their slim figures to avoiding this protein. Most well-known perhaps is Elisabeth Hasselbeck with her book – The G-free Diet – in which she praises the gluten-free diet as one that can promote weight loss, increased energy, improve attention span and speed up digestion.

The hype:
Gluten has been in the news a lot over the past year. Jimmy Kimmel dedicated a segment of his show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, to finding out just how much people know about gluten and why they were choosing to follow a gluten-free diet. (The hysterically absurd responses should be seen to be believed!). The FDA also just issued federal guidelines defining the criteria that a food must meet to be labeled gluten-free. This move is important for those with celiac disease, but also put gluten in the news again. Additionally, multiple news sources, including ABC and the Wall Street Journal, covered a recent survey released by Consumer Reports which found that 63 percent of those surveyed thought going gluten-free would improve physical or mental well-being through help with digestion, weight loss, cholesterol and the improved immune system function. And a third of those surveyed reported that they buy gluten-free products for those reasons, not for any disease-specific health concerns.

The facts:
If a person is diagnosed with celiac disease, they must follow a gluten-free diet. However, the truth is that despite claims that avoiding gluten may result in weight-loss or have other benefits, this is simply untrue. Many gluten-free products are actually more calorie dense as the gluten is replaced with additional calories and fat. And although some believe that gluten-free products have more vitamins and minerals, that is also completely untrue. Cutting out gluten can actually result in a loss of valuable nutrients.

Bottom Line:
The fact is that unless someone has a medical condition that requires them to consume a gluten-free diet, there is no proven health benefit to going gluten-free.

7. Prenatal exposure to pesticides linked to autism

There has been much legitimate research into the mystery of autism — a devastating developmental disorder that can leave sufferers unable to communicate and emotionally isolated. However, there have also been trumped-up scares about various “possible” links between the disorder and numerous environmental factors — such as the purported link between pesticides and autism.

The scare:
One such is a recent study from a group at the University of California at Davis that supposedly linked prenatal exposure to pesticides and the development of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The group looked at records of women who, while they were pregnant, lived within about a mile of various pesticide applications in California, and examined the occurrence of ASD in their offspring.

The hype:
As one would expect, the story was picked up by various environmentally-oriented news sites, Environmental Health News, and also several other health-related news outlets such as CNN Health, and even Scientific American. It was, of course also covered by media such as the StarTribune, and Reuters.

The facts:
In no way did the study really link gestational pesticide exposure to autism or ASD. There was no actual measurement of pesticide exposure, since this was a retrospective study. The authors simply estimated exposures from the women’s addresses at the time they were pregnant. The research group then attempted to discern which among several pesticides and pesticide-classes were predominantly used and compared those approximations to how far away those women lived. No causal link can be established by a study of this type, although one might be hard-pressed to realize that from much of the media coverage.

Bottom Line:
This scare is just another example of fear-mongering by environmental activists. The fact that the study was published in a journal lends credence in the eyes of the uninitiated to their conclusions, although one might query whether even an environmentally-oriented journal should have agreed to publish it. Unfortunately, like water dropping on stone, repeated “studies” of this sort can wear away people’s trust in real scientific evidence. It’s crucial to remember that poor studies do not prove anything — no matter how many there are.

6. Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) pollutes drinking water

Of all the scares discussed in this publication, hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, may be the most egregious example of an agenda-driven fear campaign. Fracking is simply a method of using a fluid mixture at high pressures to release natural gas that is trapped deep in underground shale deposits.

The U.S. has enormous quantities of “shale gas” trapped in deposits throughout the country. Not only would obtaining this gas minimize our dependence on oil—foreign or otherwise—but it also provides an opportunity to significantly reduce air pollution. Natural gas is easily the cleanest burning fuel available. The combustion products of methane gas—which itself is colorless and odorless—are water and carbon dioxide. No soot, fumes, or smog are formed.

The Scare:
Virtually all fracking scares are based on the “fact” that this method is causing widespread pollution of our drinking water, primarily from the chemicals that make up the fracking fluid required to access pockets of natural gas trapped deep below the surface. As such, fracking is now equated with water pollution, facts notwithstanding. Adding to this scare is a mountain of misinformation, which, if believed would leave the average American with the impression that fracking is an environmental catastrophe, when it is just the opposite.

The hype:
Anti-fracking coverage by the media has been relentless. Articles and opinion pieces that promoted fears have appeared in multiple news outlets, such as NPR, The Huffington Post, US News and World Report, NBC News, and many others. Except in rare cases, these publications focused on unproven health claims. Of note, The Albany Times Union called for Governor Cuomo to extend the ban on fracking, even though business is booming right across the border in Pennsylvania.

The facts:
The anti-fracking movement is both misguided and suspicious. Natural gas used to be the poster child of the environmental movement. And, it should be. Compared to other petroleum products, it burns without any of the pollution, smog or particulate matter associated with coal, oil, or gasoline.

Yet, methane—the principal component of natural gas—does not conveniently navigate its way up through the ground into storage tanks. It needs to be collected—something that the environmental groups that used to worship the fuel are just now finding out. Since a vast reservoir of natural gas exists more than one to two miles below the surface, fracking is the only way to get to it.

Paradoxically, the depth of methane deposits makes the pollution of the aquifer highly unlikely. Groundwater is typically found at a depth of several hundred feet below the surface. Since the fracking fluid is injected at least one mile deeper than this, it is hard to imagine how this fluid would migrate upwards for more than a mile to reach the aquifer.

In addition, the fear of the chemicals used in the fracking fluid is overstated. The composition of the fluid is 99 percent water and quartz, plus between 0.5 and 1 percent chemicals. A list of the chemicals used also highlights the fear tactics used to stop fracking. Many of these chemicals are found in typical household products, including detergents, rubbing alcohol, acetic acid (vinegar), citric acid, drinking alcohol, salt, calcium chloride (road salt), boric acid (an antiseptic), and sodium carbonate (baking powder).

Bottom Line:
Fracking is here to stay, despite misguided efforts to stop it. It will make America energy independent, reduce air pollution, and keep fuel prices low. It is also worth noting that the motives behind anti-fracking efforts may not be environmental at all. Oil producing nations, such as Russia and the Middle East have much at stake in keeping natural gas in the ground. Vladimir Putin has suddenly become very environmentally conscious, since natural gas will lower the need for Russia’s oil. And Saudi Arabia’s Prince al-Waleed bin Talal has admitted how important it is for their country to keep producing oil. It is interesting to ponder the extent to which the anti-fracking movement may be funded by oil producing nations that are desperate to keep the oil flowing.

In the end, the protests will fail. Natural gas production will radically change the reliance on foreign oil simply for economic reasons. The environmental benefits will become obvious as well, despite misguided efforts of groups that, inadvertently or otherwise, try to frighten us into not doing the right thing.

5. Liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes poisoning children

As the use of reduced-harm nicotine-delivery products has become more widespread, the organized attacks against them (e-cigarettes and vapor products, e-cigs) has become more entrenched and vitriolic. This, despite the increasing trickle of evidence from both laboratory and clinic that more and more smokers are successfully switching to vaping with little-to-no adverse effects; this trickle is becoming a stream, but “public health” has united in impeding, banning and restricting this technology.

Those opposed use a variety of themes in trying to stifle e-cigs, including: renormalization, kid-friendly flavors, scheming Big Tobacco, rampant teen use and addiction, and targeting kids with seductive advertising, bystander toxicity from in second-hand e-cig vapor. None of these “concerns” posited by nonprofits, officials, agencies, academic centers and regulators and politicians, are actually factual.

The Scare:
While murmurings of concerns about toxic, deadly nicotine had been heard since the official propaganda war against e-cigs began at the FDA in 2009, the scare was truly launched thanks to the New York Times’ designated e-cig hitman, Matt Richtel. His “groundbreaking expose” of the widespread instances of nicotine poisonings among our nation’s infants and toddlers, entitled “Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes,” appeared in Sunday’s Times, March 23rd. (It was part III of the Times’ eventual 6-part series on e-cigs, each of which carried on the officially-sanctioned fear campaign against reduced-harm cessation products). The article warned of thousands upon thousands of calls to poison control centers since e-cigs became popular, each year’s instances doubling or more those of the year before.

The hype:
Well, when the Sunday New York Times runs such a spectacular story alerting parents of youngsters about a new, highly-toxic danger that might be in their homes right now, the media became immediately breathless with anticipation about their readership getting the message as soon as possible, often over and over again. To summarize the coverage would be impossible: indeed, one can read similar stories today based on the same data provided to the Times’ Richtel by sources undoubtedly affiliated with the CDC and other agencies antagonistic to e-cigs. How do we know this? The CDC, led by Tom Frieden, issued a “Report From the Field” about nicotine poisoning — a measure usually reserved for threats such as the recent Ebola incursion (also mishandled dramatically by that same agency and its bumbling chief).

The facts:
The only problem with these scary stories about the new epidemic of toddler nicotine poisonings was that it was entirely misleading. The inferences drawn from the number of poison-control calls by anxious parents as a reflection of actual harm or illness induced by nicotine exposure were grossly exaggerated. This somewhat boring fact was thoroughly ignored in the “public-health” inspired hysteria over a few thousand calls, perhaps a hundred visits to hospital ERs and less than twenty hospitalized children with possible nicotine toxicity. None were seriously harmed by nicotine exposure.

Meanwhile, consider that tens of thousands of America’s babies are injured seriously, some killed in fact, by common household products, including detergents, perfumes, those attractive dishwashing cubes, medicines, mouthwash, etc., etc. No CDC alerts have been issued on these potentially dangerous products.

Bottom Line:
The well-orchestrated “public-health” and media scare about the imaginary nicotine poisoning epidemic is just another part of the phony alarmism promulgated by the CDC, academics and politicians protecting their budgets. Nothing to it at all in the real world.

4. Cancer epidemic from medical scans

Ever since the discovery of “X-Rays” and other forms of ionizing radiation, attributed largely to the Curies and Roentgen around the turn of the last century, fears of adverse health effects from exposure have run rampant. Examples of such effects included premature deaths of radium-dial workers, atomic bomb destruction and airborne fallout from testing during the Cold War. The “linear non-threshold theory” (LNT) promulgated by Dr. Hermann Muller at the Rockefeller Foundation and Institute, based on fruit-flies exposed to ultra-high radiation doses, became accepted dogma. LNT posits that there is no safe level of radiation exposure, right down to zero.

The Scare:
In The New York Times on January 30th, two physicians published an op-ed entitled, “We Are Giving Ourselves Cancer.” Expecting that this was likely going to be a rant against air pollution particulates or some cosmetic chemical, or a pesticide perhaps, we were surprised to find the target this time: medical X-rays and scans using ionizing radiation, especially CT scans. Since the authors were a radiologist and a cardiologist based at the University of California-San Francisco, one of whom is also an associate editor at JAMA, such an opinion piece was likely to carry quite a bit of weight, we felt. But, for good or ill?

The hype:
In November, published “The Hidden Dangers of Medical Scans,” basically repeating the scary alarms of the Times’ op-ed. This article referred to a National Cancer Institute estimate that, based on 2007 data, the 72 million CT scans done that year would lead to about 29,000 cases of cancer. Having appeared in the Times and TIME, many other media venues picked up the drumbeat, warning the public to be ever-ready to challenge an order or recommendation for a medical radiological exam, advising people, patients and parents of sick children to demand to know “if this test will help to elucidate the problem and improve outcomes.”

The facts:
ACSH advisor, Dr. Robert Glatter, a co-chief of the Lenox Hill Hospital ER, and a colleague, Dr. David Schwartz, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Radiology at NYU School of Medicine, discussed the irrational fear of medical scans in Medscape. Some of the highlights of this enlightening interchange included the fact that the actual risk of cancer from one or a few CT scans is remote, when compared to its benefits when used appropriately. And, while other non-ionizing radiologic investigations (ultrasound, MRI) are sometimes indicated, as a rule CT scans are the most valuable in the ER setting. Both Drs. Glatter and Schwartz expressed concern that the simplistic message of the op-ed might cause needless confusion among anxious patients and parents of children with emergency situations, compromising care.

An even more thorough discussion of the harms of the exaggerated risk of indicated CT scans and the phony basis of the LNT concept can be read in a December article by Dr. James Conca.

Bottom Line:
While it is likely true that far too many CT scans (as well as many, many other diagnostic X-rays and other radiology tests) are being done, largely thanks to defensive medicine, attempts to adhere to new “standard of care” insurance guidelines, and personal financial benefits, dealing with such overuse by scaring the public about non-existent cancer risks is not the way to go about reducing such overuse.

3. GMOs not safe for use in foods

Genetically-engineered (biotech, GMO) crops were first planted and harvested here in the U.S. in 1996. Since then, millions of acres and bushels of crops with GMO ingredients have been harvested and consumed worldwide. Recently, several states have asked citizens to vote on whether or not to require that foods containing genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients be labeled. In California, Colorado and Washington state such measures failed to pass; in Oregon the vote was so close that a recount was triggered. Vermont voters approved a labeling measure, but it has been challenged by the food industry.

The scare:
It’s impossible to pinpoint the actual origin of the scare campaign against GMOs that is at least partly responsible for such labeling efforts. Suffice it to say that ever since genetic engineering reached the public consciousness, there have been those who have argued against its safe use — at least in foods. In addition to such scare tactics, political antagonism towards Monsanto and other corporations plays a role as well. Further, the burgeoning organic foods industry continues to foment concerns about non-organic foods and ingredients. Often, the vote is presented as consumers’ “right to know.”

The hype:
Media coverage of the votes on GMO labeling laws was widespread. On the Web, Grist pronounced labeling dead in both Colorado and Oregon, as did Reuters, while the Denver Post concentrated on Colorado’s vote.

The facts:
In a nutshell, ACSH’s opinion is that there is no reason to burden Americans with an unnecessary set of disparate laws to label foods that pose no risk to anyone. The argument that it is an issue of consumers’ right to know what’s in their foods is a red herring. There are already ways that consumers can avoid GMOs if they so wish — by buying organic foods, or patronizing stores that pledge to avoid GMO ingredients. The idea that GMOs pose a health threat is totally without merit, and such reasoning should be soundly rejected. Labeling initiatives only perpetuate the myth that there is such an issue. Further, the provision of various labeling laws in different states would impact the food industry, which could be required to follow different rules in different states, and thus would likely raise food prices for consumers.

Bottom Line:
There is no scientifically valid reason to label GMO ingredients in Americans’ foods. Such a move would benefit only the organic foods industry, and negatively impact both food producers and consumers.

2. Thimerosal in Vaccines poses threat to public health, says RFK Jr.

Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative that was used in some vaccines beginning in the 1930’s. However, since 2001, with the exception of some flu vaccines, thimerosal is no longer used as a preservative in routine childhood vaccinations. Many misguided parents were concerned that thimerosal in vaccines led to autism, a fear sparked by Andrew Wakefield (whose original study on the subject was identified as “elaborate fraud” and retracted by the journal that published it, The Lancet. Wakefield has since lost his medical license.) Thimerosal was removed as a precautionary measure, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Institute of Medicine have all stated that no evidence supports a link between thimerosal and any brain disorders.

The scare:
In August, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. released a book called “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: The Evidence Supporting the Immediate Removal of Mercury – a Known Neurotoxin – from Vaccines.” In his book, he states, “dangerous quantities of Thimerosal continue to be used [in vaccines], posing a significant threat to public health and leading to a crisis of faith in vaccine safety.”

The hype:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been arguing against the use of thimerosal in vaccines for quite some time. In 2005, he authored an article on the topic in Rolling Stone and The article was so factually incorrect that later retracted the article completely, and Rolling Stone deleted the article from their archives without explanation. But RFK Jr. is so emotionally invested in the fight that he refuses to reconsider his opinion. His new book expands on his Rolling Stone and articles, and once again needlessly raises an issue that scientific experts settled years ago.

The facts:
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that thimerosal does not pose a health threat to humans when used as a preservative in vaccines. ACSH trustee Dr. Paul Offit says, “Thimerosal is ethyl mercury, not environmental mercury, and it’s excreted from the body far more quickly … Breast milk contains far higher [mercury] levels than you would ever get from vaccines.” Further, thimerosal is not even used in routine childhood vaccinations anymore. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is doing a serious disservice to public health by using his family name and strong following to frighten and confuse parents about vaccine safety in general.

Bottom line:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s new book perpetuates unfounded fears that thimerosal in vaccines can cause brain disorders, when actually thimerosal use in vaccines is overwhelmingly considered to be safe by the scientific community.

1. Prenatal exposure to phthalates linked to lower IQs in children

Phthalates – chemicals that are found in many plastic products to make them more flexible, and are commonly used in toys, medical devices and some cosmetics and fragrances — have long been attacked by environmental activist groups, labeling them as “endocrine disruptors.” These activists claim that phthalates cause developmental and reproductive defects.

The scare:
A December 2014 paper that came out of the Columbia/Mailman School of Public Health claimed that there was a correlation between the concentration of the urinary metabolites of a family of chemicals called phthalates in the urine of pregnant women and a lower IQ of the child at age 7.

The authors of the paper entitled “Persistent Associations between Maternal Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates on Child IQ at Age 7 Years,” used statistical chicanery and manipulation of data to fit a pre-ordained conclusion—one which wasn’t even remotely supported by the data.

The hype:
This one hit the media jackpot. Overnight, fantasy became reality, as headline after headline unquestioningly reported that phthalates, which are ubiquitous in modern life—found in cosmetics, perfumes, detergents, found in plastics and medical devices—will make your child “dumber.”

Some of the many examples include “Nail Polish Could Be Lowering Your Child’s IQ, Scientists Pinpoint Phthalates As Culprits.” (Medical Daily), “Lower IQ found in kids exposed to high chemical levels in pregnancy.” (Washington Post), and “This Makeup Additive Is Linked to a Lower IQ” (Time). There are too many to list them all.

The facts:
There are so many faults with this study that we could write an entire book. on it. These include:

A single measurement of the urinary concentration of the metabolites of a number of phthalates represented all of the collected data in this absurd study.
Since phthalates themselves are not found in urine, it was only the concentration of the urinary metabolites that was measured. This adds an additional error, since different phthalates are metabolized at different rates. A urinary concentration may or may not reflect the actual exposure of the mother to the parent chemical.
The study was an “observational study—nearly worthless, since they not only lack proper controls but by adding or subtracting a number of variables—also called confounders—almost any result can be obtained. Observational studies are more math than science and can never indicate cause and effect.
The authors allegedly “controlled for the home environment,” and “other factors known to influence child intellectual development.” These factors are impossible to control for, especially in low socioeconomic status groups.
The authors controlled for the IQ of the mothers, but not for the father
Although the authors warned against phthalates in cosmetics, the only one commonly used in cosmetics is di-ethyl phthalate, and there was no correlation between this and IQ
Of the 90 data points reported in the table allegedly linking IQ and metabolite concentration, only 19 of them achieved statistical significance—nothing short of embarrassing.
Bottom line:
These data came from a federally funded study. The study includes 275 common environmental chemicals. By use of powerful computing methods, one can measure huge numbers of possible outcomes from this enormous body of data and be guaranteed of getting some that are statistically significant by chance. This is called data dredging, and is the least reliable method for conducting epidemiological studies. The results are almost always without value.


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