Causes Of `Chemophobia'

AUTHOR: GEORGE BAGGETT, p.12 Ronald Breslow wishes to develop a cure for "chemophobia," a dread disease running rampant in college-educated Americans and often transferred to their offspring (The Scientist, March 22, 1993, page 12). As he notes, this phenomenon could have its roots in "well-publicized chemical pollution problems,"

By | July 26, 1993

AUTHOR: GEORGE BAGGETT, p.12
Ronald Breslow wishes to develop a cure for "chemophobia," a dread disease running rampant in college-educated Americans and often transferred to their offspring (The Scientist, March 22, 1993, page 12). As he notes, this phenomenon could have its roots in "well-publicized chemical pollution problems," but, as in the case of Pavlov's dog, continual reinforcement comes from not-so- well-publicized chemical pollution events.

When rural Kansas communities received a notice last year from the United States Environmental Protection Agency that distributed drinking water had been found to contain unacceptable levels of vinyl chloride, concerns about a history of excess health problems in the community would not be alleviated by labeling them a symptom of "chemophobia." And with newly installed water-monitoring equipment discovering high levels of atrazine in rivers of the Midwest, the millions of people who depend on these rivers for drinking water look upon an anti- chemophobia campaign as being just another product of those who manufacture and sell pesticides.

Breslow notes that ozone depletion was discovered by "chemists" and "its solution is being designed by chemists," failing to correctly recall history and minimizing the dilemma. We know that when University of California, Irvine, chemist F. Sherwood Rowland first discovered that chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases deplete the ozone layer of the stratosphere in 1974, it was a team of chemists working for CFC manufacturers who attacked him as a "do-gooder." As for "designing a solution" to holes in the ozone layer, we also know that chemists are busy developing new chemicals less harmful to the ozone layer. But the horse is already out of the barn, and closing the barn door after the fact is not a solution to the problem!

Using the term "chemophobia" may ingratiate Breslow with pro- pesticide zealots, but the hard facts of hard science suggest that fears of environmental consequences of some chemicals are not irrational. As for the state of the science, I would refer readers to Advances in Modern Environmental Toxicology, vol. XXI, Chemically Induced Alterations in Sexual and Functional Development: The Wildlife/Human Connection, edited by Theo Colborn and Coralie Clement (Princeton Scientific Publishing Co., Princeton, N.J., 1992).

GEORGE BAGGETT
Kansas City, Mo.


Popular Now

  1. Major German Universities Cancel Elsevier Contracts
  2. Running on Empty
    Features Running on Empty

    Regularly taking breaks from eating—for hours or days—can trigger changes both expected, such as in metabolic dynamics and inflammation, and surprising, as in immune system function and cancer progression.

  3. Most of Human Genome Nonfunctional: Study
  4. Identifying Predatory Publishers
AAAS