Chemicals R Us: New ACC-sponsored website says chemicals are safe and fun for kids!

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

[See also my more recent post on this topic here.]

I was alerted yesterday to a new website – kidschemicalsafety.org – funded by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and run by its right-hand “non-profit,” TERA (Toxicology Excellence in Risk Assessment).  The website and an accompanying Facebook page are a wonder to behold, replete with photos of happy kids.  For the most part, I’ll leave it to you to explore.  But here are a few highlights. 

The website’s stated mission:

Kids + Chemicals is your best source of balanced, scientifically accurate chemical health information. We will alert you to the latest chemical-related health concerns, but also let you know when you can relax.

Some of the topics are innocent enough and objective.  There’s one on choking hazards and other physical dangers posed by some toys, written by someone from the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center.  But that page then links to another one on chemical risks of toys, this one written by scientists at Exponent, Inc., a toxicology-for-hire firm used heavily by the chemical industry.  Their message to parents:  “[I]t is important to consider not just the chemical levels in the toy, but also whether they can cause an exposure above a safe level.”  The page goes on to assure them:  “The good news is that a variety of regulations exist that are designed to improve toy safety. … State, national and international agencies take great care to define chemicals of concern and minimize exposure to children from toys through regulations.”

In case parents are still wondering just what is a “safe level,” there’s a handy link to another page that sings the praises of risk assessment and helpfully explains:  “All chemicals are toxic at some level. … For example, ingesting dihydrogen monoxide can cause harm to people at high exposure levels, but few people would want to ban di-hydrogen (H2) mono-oxide (O) – also known as “water.”

Another page on asthma lists many contributing risk factors:  “pet fur and dander, dust, cigarette smoke, mold, and pollen” and notes that “other common pollutants found in the air can also cause asthma, such as ozone and car exhaust.”

As to chemicals in your home?  The page goes as far as to cite some studies claiming a link – but quickly dismisses them, stating “most studies cannot link one individual chemical or product to the increase in wheezing or asthma-like symptoms,” and that many such studies are based on tests in animals “exposed to extremely high concentrations, which do not represent our everyday exposures.”  It goes on to note that “regular cleaning reduces the presence of known allergens and irritants mentioned above, and has been shown to reduce allergy and asthma symptoms.”

The website has dozens of references and links to TERA and its work, most of them noting TERA is a “non-profit” but omitting any mention of how much of its funding comes from the chemical and related industries.  Very odd in this regard are the prominent bright green “DONATE” buttons that appear throughout the site; they link to a page where you’re invited to support TERA and this website, which is “made possible through the generous support of people like you.”  Maybe ACC is being a bit tight with its funding this time around, after having its earlier effort to create an “astroturf” front group, the Coalition for Chemical Safety, go up in smoke. 

Unlike that time, at least this time around, ACC’s sponsorship is duly noted.  There are some strange sponsors in addition to ACC and TERA, however, whom I can only hope have been duped:  The Cincinnati Children's Drug & Poison Control Center, NSF International, and most bizarrely, the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the US Federal Government.

I have to say the site is clever in that it has just enough of an air of balance that I am concerned it may fool unwitting readers (clearly the intent).  It even has a links page that directs readers to organizations such the National Children’s Study and the Children’s Environmental Health Network.

Clever it may be, but “your best source of balanced, scientifically accurate chemical health information” it ain’t.

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2 Comments

  1. Michael Jayjock
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    I find calling TERA the ACC’s “right-hand” and putting “non-profit” in quotes to be an unwarranted cheap shot and low blow. Indeed, I have worked with TERA for many years and see them to be one of the most objective and above- board organizations of its kind. Mike Dourson’s vision and implementation as the founder and leader of TERA has, in my opinion, been simply impeccable as a bastion of scientific integrity.

    I typically appreciate and agree with Richard Denison’s writing and point of view but he has clearly and badly missed the mark here. He should not see a positive and moderate stance on these issues as an affront to any claim he might have to the moral high ground. I found this particular piece to be somewhat righteous and self-serving.

  2. Michael Dourson
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for taking an interest in our website (http://www.kidschemicalsafety.org/). We welcome all thoughtful, valid, and constructive comments. Perhaps more importantly, we continue to invite questions from parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. on chemicals of interest to them. Since no sponsor dictates our content, subject matter, or message, anyone interested can feel free to ask questions, and we will strive to write essays in response that are balanced, accurate, to the point, and timely. Holiday Cheers!

    Michael Dourson, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment

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