The toxic dangers in this contaminative world — phthalates and -enols and -alenes, oh my! — are enough to turn a nervous Nellie into a paranoid Patty. But Geoffrey C. Kabat, Ph.D., epidemiologist and author of the new book Hyping Health Risks, says it's time to stop buying into the doom-and-gloom headlines. "Going into a tailspin over the report of the day distracts us from bigger health concerns," he says. "If a smoker who doesn't exercise is worried about chemicals leaching from her water bottle, well, that's really silly." We asked Kabat for common-sense science to thwart some of our freakier fears:
OUR DAILY DOSE OF BOTTLED WATER IS POISONING US.
As you flip out about a study that found hormone changes in rats fed bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound in plastic bottles, Kabat reminds you, "We're not rats; our exposure to BPA is immeasurably lower." But, you insist, what about the survey that detected BPA in 93 percent of people tested? "'Detectable' could mean as little as a millionth of a gram," says Kabat. "In many cases, these traces are so low that we don't have to worry."
BREAST CANCER IS CAUSED BY POLLUTION.
Kabat doesn't rule out the possibility of a pollution/breast-cancer relationship, yet he maintains that any connection is "relatively small." In the early '90s, activists were convinced that pollution was responsible for abnormally high rates of the disease in Long Island, NY, so Kabat and other researchers did a seven-year study comparing chemical exposure among local women with and without breast cancer. The finding? "Null," Kabat says, across the board.
THAT PRIUS WE'RE SAVING UP FOR WILL ZAP US WITH ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS.
Kabat explains, "I haven't studied hybrids, but most electromagnetic fields we encounter in daily life are tens of thousands of times too low to have any effect on the cells of your body." Sticker-shock at the pump is another story.
PARANOIA BY THE NUMBERS
55% of women in a Harvard study believed chemicals in the environment play a role in causing breast cancer.
5% of scientists believed the same.
10 parts per billion of Bisphenol A are ingested by regular drinkers of bottled water.
600 parts per billion are considered safe for consumption.