February 22, 2009
Expert Survey Results: Media Coverage of Common Chemicals
A survey of toxicologists was released today that outlines how experts view the risks of common chemicals, and concludes that the media are collectively overstating risk. Conducted by the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) and The Center for Health & Risk Communication at George Mason University (GMU) in conjunction with the Society of Toxicology (SOT), the study Toxicologists' Opinion on Chemical Risk: A Survey of the Society of Toxicology was released as part of a news conference held at the National Press Club.
In order to determine the collective judgments of toxicologists on chemical risks, GMU partnered with SOT, creating an online questionnaire delving into four different areas of toxicologists’ attitudes, perceptions, and opinions related to chemical risk. Although 55% of the toxicologists completing the questionnaire expressed concern about pesticides and endocrine disruptors as posing significant health risks, they overwhelmingly rejected the suggestion that exposure to even the smallest amounts of harmful chemicals is dangerous or that the detection of any level of a chemical in the human body (detected via biomonitoring) indicates a significant health risk. In addition, they were nearly unanimous in rejecting organic or “natural” products as inherently safer than others.
Notably, the study revealed that 79% of the toxicologists surveyed were critical of the Natural Resources Defense Council, saying that it overstated the risk of chemicals. Similar numbers were found for the Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Environmental Defense Fund. The survey results indicated that WebMD is the only news source rated as accurate by a majority (56%) of toxicologists for covering the risks of chemicals, followed by Wikipedia (45%). Only 15 percent described coverage in the national print media as accurate.