New York Times environmental reporter Phil Shabecoff is so green he even
recycles debunked health scares.
Shabecoff’s new book, "Poisoned Profits: How Corporate America Is
Poisoning Our Children With Toxic Chemicals," claims to "reveal the
frightening and expanding dimension of children’s chronic illnesses in the U.S.
and link this epidemic to industrial toxins."
In attacking virtually every sort of industrial chemical, Shabecoff implies
that almost all childhood illnesses, failed pregnancies and birth defects are
attributable to the "42 billion pounds of chemicals per day" either
made in or imported into the U.S.
Shabecoff asserts that industrial chemicals are barely regulated, companies
"have knowingly put and kept toxic products on the market," children
are more vulnerable to chemicals, "no one is safe," the health care
costs attributable to chemicals exceed $100 billion annually, and that the
solution is to go "chemical free."
If Shabecoff’s book were turned into a movie, however, it would have to be
titled, "The Night of the Living Dead — Chemical Boogeyman Edition."
Scares about all these substances have been debunked over and over during the
last few decades.
This column has addressed most of the scares that Shabecoff tries to
resurrect, including those about phthalates;
retardants; triclosan; volatile
organic compounds; PVC;
fuel; arsenic; antibiotics;
Shabecoff's attempted resurrection of these scares isn’t surprising given
the usual suspects he digs up for interviews. They constitute a veritable Who’s
Who of Junk Science, many of whom have been featured at one time or another in
this column including: Charlotte
Brody (Health Care Without Harm); Carol
Browner; Richard Clapp; Devra
Davis; Lois Gibbs; Lynn
Goldman; Tyrone Hayes; Michael
Jacobson; Philip Landrigan; Bruce
Lanphear; John Peterson Myers; Herbert
Needleman; Ellen Silbergeld; Shanna
Swan; and Walter Willett.
And if Shabecoff didn’t personally interview a junk scientist, he cited
their anti-chemical activism. Some of these individuals include: Erin
Brockovich; Rachel Carson; Theo
Colburn; Ken Cook (Environmental Working Group); David
Michaels; Arnold Schecter; and Neils
And if these sources aren’t enough to cast doubt on "Poisoned
Profits," then there’s Shabecoff, himself, whom the uber-liberal New York
Times reassigned from environmental reporting in 1991 because he was too green.
Then-Times Washington bureau chief Howell Raines told Shabecoff, "New
York is complaining. You’re too pro-environment and they say you’re ignoring
the costs of environmental protection. They want you to cover the [Internal
Revenue Service]," according to a 1998 report in The Nation.
Shabecoff subsequently quit the Times. "Poisoned Profits,"
therefore, is precisely what one might expect from a biased journalist who
depends on dubious and discredited sources to breathe life into alleged
"problems" that have escaped scientific detection despite more than
40 years and tens of billions of dollars of research.
When you think about it, Shabecoff’s hypothesis is really incredible. He
suggests that, because we make or import more chemicals than ever before,
emissions, exposures and risks to health are greater than ever before.
"There is abundant evidence that the trillions of pounds of hazardous
pollutants that have been poured into the environment are, in all likelihood,
responsible for much of the sickness, suffering and, too often, death of
America’s children," he writes.
And in the grand environmentalist tradition of hyperbolic imagery, his media
release states, "The effect on children’s health is like a World Trade
Center in slow motion." But the facts don’t match up with Shabecoff’s
First, industrial emissions and the public’s exposure to them have declined
over the past few decades. Air emissions declined 67 percent between 1993 and
2002, emissions of volatile organic compounds declined by 50 percent from 1980
to 2007, and overall industrial releases to the environment declined 59 percent
between 1988 and 2006, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Contrary to Shabecoff’s claim of deteriorating public health, life
expectancy, the most objective standard for measuring health, is the highest it
has ever been across all race, age and gender groups, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall cancer incidence and death rates are declining, and childhood cancer
rates are stable, according to the National Institutes of Health. Most
importantly, there is not a single study that credibly links typical or legal
industrial emissions to the environment as a cause of any disease in anyone,
Shabecoff wrestles with this fact early in his book when he writes that
"Often … the scientific evidence is cloudy." But he quickly resolves
his dilemma by suggesting a conspiracy among the chemical industry, politicians
and government officials to ignore children's health.
What follows are 200-plus pages of innuendo and half-truths. An example of
Shabecoff’s penchant for omitting key facts arises when he praises
environmental groups working "for" the children. He laments that
"there is no sheriff leading this posse."
He then nominates Mt. Sinai School of Medicine’s Philip Landrigan,
"called by some the father of environmental pediatrics," to assume
the role. Landrigan chaired the National Research Council Committee that
produced the 1993 "landmark" report Pesticides in the Diets of
Infants and Children, a study that was used by activists to scare politicians
into enacting the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996.
But anyone who actually read that report knows that it utterly failed to
make any link between pesticides in food and health risk to children.
Shabecoff’s hero was forced to publicly acknowledge in the wake of the report
that "no disease has ever been documented that stems from legal
applications of pesticides."
The environmental scare movement started in 1962 with Rachel Carson’s
anti-chemical screed, "Silent Spring." It’s comforting to know that
46 years later the alarmist case against industrial chemicals remains