Are we contaminating our bodies with everyday products?

Over the holiday weekend, a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof argued chemicals used in everyday products are linked to a host of health problems, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, and infertility. And that’s not all—Kristof takes his warning even further, arguing that by not heeding the warnings of organizations such as the Endocrine Society and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, we’re essentially acting in the same way we did about tobacco, ignoring researchers’ findings linking smoking and cancer.

It’s a bold claim, and one that’s incredibly misleading for readers.

Kristof relies on the recent scientific opinions of the Endocrine Society and the International Federation of Gynecology—you can read our blogs explaining the problems with those statements here and here. Essentially, these organizations are relying on studies conducted in animals that found extremely high doses of chemicals caused adverse health effects. But that doesn’t mean small doses found in everyday products will cause similar health effects in humans.

Tobacco, on the other hand, is a completely different story. There was (and is) clear and convincing evidence that exposure to tobacco smoke directly caused many health problems, including cancer.

We certainly need to update the way we regulate chemicals—the federal law concerning chemical regulation, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), hasn’t been updated since it was passed in 1976. Bipartisan legislation, supported by a broad spectrum of environmentalists and industry stakeholders, would go a long way to fix this outdated legislation.

Kristof has a powerful media platform. It’s unfortunate instead of pushing Congress to enact real chemical reform, he’s using his column to needlessly worry his audience about the dangers lurking in their medicine cabinets and pantries. Crying “tobacco” might earn more page views, but it doesn’t put the actual risk posed by everyday products into reasonable, usable context.