Toxicologists Weigh In On Chemical Risks : Shots - Health News Tobacco's the big health risk, according to toxicologists in a new poll. Plastics not so much.
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Toxicologists Weigh In On Chemical Risks

Tobacco's the big health risk, toxicologists say. Plastics not so much. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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You say health hazard, I say overblown hysteria...at least in many cases. That's the word from the Society of Toxicology, the leading professional association for the folks who study chemical health risks for a living.

In a Harris poll conducted this spring, the scientists came down hard on environmental activists and media for muddying the message--overplaying relatively small health risks like certain chemical additives in food and baby bottles, while underplaying the relative risks of some pesticides and tobacco. Industry got plenty of blame, too, for generally underplaying the risk of their products.

As to how the toxicologists judged the relative risks: Nearly 90 percent rated smoking tobacco as a high risk activity, 44 percent thought second hand smoke a high risk to health. That's compared to 29 percent who think people's typical level of exposure to aflatoxin (a fungal toxin in some peanut butter) is highly risky, versus 11 percent for phthalates, the plastic additive, and 3 percent for Teflon coatings on cookware.

The poll was commissioned by STATS, an independent research group based at George Mason University. You might guess that industry toxicologists would tend to give chemicals an easier ride than scientists who don't work for companies, but at a press conference releasing the findings, STATS president, S. Robert Lichter said that wasn't what the survey found.

"Across 88 data points, there was a two percentage point difference between all categories of scientists--industry and academic. I was surprised there wasn't more of a difference."