Cancer is frightening. Cancer in children is more terrifying still. For nearly two decades, some scientists have suggested that electromagnetic fields (EMF) around electric power lines cause brain tumors in children. The writer Paul Brodeur publicized those suggestions in the New Yorker. In 1996 the National Research Council, at the request of Congress, analyzed the scientific literature. It found “no conclusive evidence” that EMF had caused human disease. If there is an EMF‐disease connection, it is too small to detect.
Everyone has been told that industrial chemicals are polluting the environment and causing a cancer epidemic. It’s not so. According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer rates have decreased since 1990, and the decline is getting steeper. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 1976 that environmental chemicals might cause 2 percent of all cancers. It’s likely they actually cause fewer. Maybe zero.
Connective tissue diseases occur in some women who have silicone breast implants and in some women who don’t. Some women with implants who developed those diseases have sued implant manufacturers, hired lawyers and scientists who produced exotic theories about how implants might cause disease, and won millions of dollars in damages. As reported in the January issue of the British Medical Journal, studies of thousands of women have failed to find convincing evidence that connective tissue diseases are more common in women with implants.
In 1996 researchers at Tulane University reported that exposure to mixtures of two pesticides at levels currently allowed by the EPA was 1,600 times as risky as exposure to either pesticide. The study was widely reported, along with warnings that everyone was exposed to mixtures of pesticides that increased risks of breast cancer, behavioral disorders and decreased sperm counts. It was all wrong. Less than a year later, the Tulane scientists reported that no one could repeat their experiment and retracted their earlier study.
Experts assembled by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences disagree about whether recent reports of deformed amphibians — frogs, toads and salamanders — represent an increase in deformed animals or just an increase in the number of people searching for them. If there is an increase in deformities, what could be the cause?