December 2, 2021

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Misstating Risk on 60 Minutes

Posted by: Andrew Langer on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 2:35:06 pm

Last night, 60 Minutes aired a broadcast on the plastic chemicals known as phthalates.

A large portion of the broadcast featured an interview with Dr. Shanna Swan, a biostatistician and Professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Swan has made a career seeking to demonstrate phthalates may be harmful. But in spite of her efforts, she has never found a direct correlation between phthalate exposure and the reproductive effects she claims. Moreover, none of her research has been reproduced or validated by the scientific community. STATS Trevor Butterworth recently published a piece on exposing the problems with Swan’s research and lack of credibility. As demonstrated by the Daubert ruling, Swan’s expert testimony has been dismissed by the courts because her studies were not “generally accepted” in the scientific community.


In the interview, Swan even admitted that her research does not offer conclusive evidence that phthalates are harmful. However, she continues to push out her message of fear to the media. Phthalates have become another victim of scare tactic propaganda, often perpetuated by activists like Swan and various special interest groups. The media picks up on these headlines and eventually you have frightened parents throwing out all plastic toys for no reason. A panic mode sets in, which can result in overreaction by individuals and our government.


Congress pushed the panic button when they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This law was passed in response to the lead scares which surfaced during the Christmas shopping season of 2007. However, in an effort to protect children from harmful products, Congress overreached and passed a sweeping law with regulations on many products which do not pose a threat—including a temporary “precautionary” ban on certain phthalates used in toys


Rather than protect consumers, these regulations have wasted millions of dollars in inventory for businesses, and ultimately increased the risks consumer products pose to children by requiring the use of less-studied alternative chemicals.


Sensational and baseless claims— like the ones prorogated by Swan in last night’s 60 Minutes broadcast—can have far-reaching consequences for consumers and businesses.
The facts in this case on phthalates are made clear by the scientific evidence which demonstrates that human exposure to phthalates is safe. To suggest otherwise is simply irresponsible.


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