[I]n the case of great health dangers of modern times — mercury, lead, tobacco, asbestos — journalists were too slow to blow the whistle. In public health, we in the press have more often been lap dogs than watchdogs.Kristof says while “there’s a danger of sensationalizing risks,” there is a critical need to educate the public and government officials about the about the ever-mounting evidence linking industrial chemicals in consumer products – phthalates in cosmetics, bisphenol A in food containers, and many more – to autism, breast and prostate cancer, and reproductive disorders. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who is writing legislation to rewrite the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act, told Kristof that of more than 80,000 chemicals on the market, the EPA has conducted safety testing for only 200.
Kristof’s column is not just a clarion call for chemical reform, but a reminder that what scientists and doctors call the precautionary principle is just common sense. If you aren’t sure whether a wild mushroom is safe, don’t eat it. If we aren’t sure that phthalates and BPA are safe – and in fact, a preponderance of evidence suggests they may be harmful – why take chances?