On Jan. 11, 2018, Newsweek ran the headline, “170 million Americans have cancer-causing radioactive elements in their drinking water.” This headline was very similar to those run by many other news outlets – but are the headlines justified, or is it just another example of the ineptness of the media?
First: The original information was not peer reviewed or published in any scientific journal, but generated by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). So, the first point here is the media’s sloppy coverage of the EWG reporting science or junk-science. Have reporters taken the time to validate the reliability of EWG’s source?
Second: What is the EWG? Is it a reputable fact-finding organization or one that profits from generating baseless phobias? Here is a little background on EWG from the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), one of the most well-respected nonprofit research and science organizations in the U.S. From the ACSH report “Dear EWG, This Is Why Real Scientists Think Poorly Of You”:
“The EWG uses an authoritative sounding name to peddle scientific half-truths and outright fabrications. Along with Greenpeace and PETA, it is beloved by activists but detested by scientists.
“Several years ago, George Mason University surveyed 937 members of the Society of Toxicology, an association of professional toxicologists. Nearly 4 out of 5 (79 percent) of those responding said that EWG – as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – overstate the health risks of chemicals.
“Despite this vote of no confidence in EWG by the scientific community, the organization manages to scare enough people to operate a $12.5 million budget. Telling people that unseen dangers lurk in their food and inside their homes is a lucrative business.
“Overall, through exaggeration or fabrication, the EWG gets pretty much everything wrong. On the few topics it gets right, the government has already acted, so EWG is just beating a dead horse to raise money.”
If you think ACSH statements are an exaggeration of EWG work, then re-read my column here on WND from Nov. 3, 2017, “Latest ‘poison’ apple scare: Fake news.” Keep in mind as you read it that apples have been on top of the EWG “Dirty Dozen List” for years, another yearly means to fabricate fear and peddle it to consumers. The apple article illustrates the fabricated fears EWG relies on for its attention-grabbing headlines and supports ACSH’s position that EWG must “exaggerate and fabricate.”
Third: The principle concern of the media hype was the chemical compound radium, which naturally occurs in our water, so of course the EWG found it there. However, in true EWG fashion, they must fabricate a fear and cry wolf about cancer, associated only with very high and long-term exposure levels, get the naïve media to respond, and viola, more funds come rolling in from overly paranoid and misinformed consumers. However, it’s the same old issue I already covered here, the “Principle of Toxicology – The Dose Makes The Poison,” not the chemical, so I will not expand on this again. If you read the referenced column, you will notice that the produce in question, spinach, also happens to be on the EWG “Dirty Dozen List” in the past, along with the apples. Both articles support the ACSH position on EWG as unreliable.
Now, back to radium. The CDC states, “If radium is swallowed in water or with food, most of it (about 80 percent) will promptly leave the body in the feces. The other 20 percent will enter the blood stream and be carried to all parts of the body, especially the bones. Some of this radium will then be excreted in the feces and urine daily. Levels of radium in public drinking water are usually less than one picocurie per liter of water. A picocurie (pCi) is a very small amount of radioactivity, and it is associated with about a trillionth of a gram of radium.”
All right, how about a visual? Let me provide one from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Fact Sheet on “How Big is a Picocurie”: “To put the relative size of one-trillionth into perspective, consider that if the Earth were reduced to one-trillionth of its diameter, the “picoEarth” would be smaller in diameter than a speck of dust. In fact, it would be six times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.”
Fourth: The Newsweek article itself states that only “a small percentage of Americans had radium that exceeded the EPA legal limit,” which is 5 picocuries per liter. When the EPA sets an upper limit of safety on any compound, it does not mean dosages immediately above that level are unsafe. The margin of safety is set at 10 to 100 times lower than that which is known to be harmful to assure safety. That margin of safety is significant. So even if the EWG found a fraction of water supplies providing an occasional level of naturally occurring radium, it does not mean it is harmful, just present, which it has been forever.
Fifth: Newsweek and EWG attempt to justify their fear-mongering by pointing to California’s regulatory standards – which is laughable. I live in California. This is like seeking guidance from the village idiot, or following a blind man over a cliff. As an example, California lists the chemical acrylamide as a known carcinogen because, per state law, if any compound is demonstrated to be carcinogen in laboratory rodents, even if from dosages humanly impossible to consume, then the compound must be listed as a carcinogen. Acrylamide is a natural byproduct of carbohydrates cooked at high temperatures, so it naturally occurs in your toast, potatoes, etc., as well as your morning cup of coffee.
The bottom-line: If you believe all the food phobia fears the media and purported consumer groups would like you to embrace, you had better learn to enjoy your anorexic diet, because all foods contain potential carcinogens, and you would croak from water intoxication long before you would perish from the infinitesimal amount of radium in your water.