Since the sun came up, it’s time for another guess-what’s-going-to-give-you-cancer-now story. The New York Times reports:
More than 30 years after chemical flame retardants were removed from children’s pajamas because they were suspected of being carcinogens, new research into flame retardants shows that one of the chemicals is prevalent in baby’s products made with polyurethane foam, including nursing pillows, car seats and highchairs.
The government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission tells us that the chemical – chlorinated Tris – “may pose a significant health risk to consumers,” putting it in the same category as “everything else on the planet.”
But this story has an interesting twist. Why is this flame retardant in all sorts of baby products?
The new research is being released amid a broader, and often bitter, debate about flame retardants and a California flammability rule that has become the de facto national standard.
The California standard, passed in 1975, requires that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. Because there is no other state or federal standard, many manufacturers comply with the California rule, usually by adding flame retardants with the foam, Dr. Blum said.
Seems seems that Big Scare #16,272 – that our babies will be incinerated – inadvertently caused Big Scare #55,319 – that our babies will get cancer.
For what it’s worth, the article – subtly headlined “Chemical Suspected in Cancer Is in Baby Products” – does mention that the research is inconclusive. In fact, they even go so far as to interview a chemistry professor, who tells the Times that the research is “interesting but hardly proof that the flame retardants were doing harm.” Although the Times is very quick to point out that the professor “occasionally accepts research money or consulting fees from the industry.”
The whole article is a conglomeration of innuendo, implication, and bullshit. The study on which the article is based only examined whether these chemicals were in products. It didn’t explore the (quite important) issues of exposure or risk. Which is evident when you read paragraphs like this:
The research does not determine if children absorbed the chemical, chlorinated Tris, from the products. But in an article to be published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers suggest that infants who use the products have higher exposure to the chemical than the government recommends.
Having followed cancer reports quite closely over the past year, this is par for the course: We have no clue how dangerous this stuff is, but CANCER!
Oh, and then there’s a quote from a University professor who tells us that, “The laws protect the chemical industry, not the general public,” seven paragraphs after we were told that these “dangerous” chemicals are in baby products because of a law designed to protect the general public from the chemical industry.
At some point, cancer reporting has to move beyond “magic 8-ball,” right?