Summary of "Toxic Terror: The Truth Behind the Cancer Scares"

Summary of

Toxic Terror: The Truth Behind the Cancer Scares

by Elizabeth M. Whelan

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Elizabeth M. Whelan. Toxic Terror: The Truth Behind the Cancer Scares. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1993, 476 pp.

Toxic Terror: The Truth Behind the Cancer Scares argues that many of the dangers of modern technology and chemicals have been grossly overstated. This text seeks to dispel many of the alarmist claims that have been raised in the popular media, by careful evaluation of the scientific evidence.

Toxic Terror: The Truth Behind the Cancer Scares will be of interest to those who are interested in assesing the risks posed by a variety of environmental hazards, or in risk assesment more generally. This work is divided into fifteen chapters, with an introduction, and includes the appendix "The Myth of a Cancer Epidemic." In the introduction the author argues that many of the "bad news" claims in the popular press, regarding environmental health risks, are not supported by the mainstream scientific consensus.

Chapter One identifies ten general environmentalist claims, and debunks them by reviewing the scientific evidence. Examples of the debunked claims are: the U.S. is in the grip of a cancer epidemic, that 80-90% of cancer is environmentally caused, that natural is safer and better than synthetic, that reproductive failure is caused by environmental factors, and that if something causes cancer in animals then it causes cancer in humans. This chapter then describes four tactics which have been employed to promote such claims: anecdotal evidence, use of a small pool of "experts," downplaying the advantages of any chemical, and projecting a sense of urgency.

Chapters Two through Thirteen discusses specific toxins, attempting to establish a more accurate assesment of their risks. Chapter Two discusses the DDT debate, and traces th birth of modern envirinmentalism. Chapter Three revisits Love Canal. The author describes the conflicting roles of politics and science in evaluating the situation, and reexamines influential studies of the supposed effects. Chapter Four examines the human health risks of a number of pesticides, and contrasts them to the health effects of not using pesticides. Chapter Five turns to the topic of food safety and posible dietary carcingens. The Alar scare is considered at length. Chapter Five concludes that, "our food supply is safe." Chapter Six reevaluates the risks posed by PCBs, and Chapter Seven reevaluates the risks posed by PBBs. Chapter Eight contrasts the risks posed by asbestos, and by current asbestos removal procedures. Chapter Nine discusses the health impacts of dioxin, reassesing its link to cancer, and discusses the politics surrounding dioxin. Agent Orange is also discussed. Chapter Ten discusses the health impact of air pollution. It lists the main sources of air pollution, describes the EPA's standards for air quality, and consideres the economic costs of overly stringent standards. Chapter Eleven asses the risks posed by water pollution. Chapter Twelve discusses radiation scares and nuclear power. This chapter analyses the health efects resulting from the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and contrasts them to the benefits of nuclear power. Chapter Thirteen discusses the current controversy surrounding the purported hazards of power lines and electromagnetic fields.

In Chapter Fourteen the author asks, "How Healthy Is America?" and argues that according to available health statistics Americans are healthier to day than ever before. Chapter Fifteen examines the role that the media plays in encouraging and promulgating sensational alarmist claims, and stresses the importance of mainstream scientists becoming active in the public dialog on health and the environment. It also investigates the alarmist extremist wing of the environmental movement, while emphasizing that the environmental movement overall has had many sound concerns.

Toxic Terror: The Truth Behind the Cancer Scares debunks many of the supposed health hazards associated with modern industrial chemicals and products. The text is carefully reasearched, yet very readable by the layperson.