Why Chemical Safety Advocates Need To Be Lab Rats For Their Products


Those advocating the safety of chemicals used in nail salons should volunteer as laboratory subjects to be exposed to those chemicals in a controlled clinical trial to assess direct effects on humans.

A New York Times article on the dangers of chemicals used in the nail salon business — Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers — drew the usual, predictable responses from industry sources.

“ ‘What I hear are insinuations based on ‘linked to,’’ said Doug Schoon, co-chairman of the Professional Beauty Association’s Nail Manufacturers Council on Safety. ‘When we talk about nail polish, there’s no evidence of harm.’

And …

“‘Dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde “have been found to be safe under current conditions of use in the United States,’ said Lisa Powers, a spokeswoman for the Personal Care Products Council, the main trade association and lobbying group for the cosmetics industry.”

However, the NYT article correctly pointed out that there is a very large and growing body of solid, science that shows that, “Some ingredients used in nail products have been tied to cancer, miscarriages, lung diseases and other ailments. The industry has long fought regulations.”

Scoundrels Or Just Willfully Stupid?

It’s hard to tell whether Schoon and Powers are scoundrels helping chemical companies continue to knowingly injure people or just willfully stupid enough to ignore (or fail to comprehend) valid science.

In legal terms that would be the difference between murder and manslaughter.

Ignoring Solid Science

Based on the best published, peer reviewed science, the two association spokespeople are simply flat-earth wrong.

No scientific study has found any of the article’s named chemicals “safe under current conditions of use” or that there is “no evidence of harm.”

Their primary defense is to dismiss scientific studies that rely on epidemiology — a technique that has been instrumental in establishing the causes of such widely disparate illnesses as AIDS, cholera and mesothelioma (asbestos-caused cancer).

While a link, or an association is not proof of a cause, it provides a strong indication that something serious is happening and that caution is needed. For more on this, see “Industry Myth: Links & Associations Don’t Count.”

Controlled Clinical Trials

Advocates of harmful chemicals almost always say they seek definitive proof of harm in humans. Indeed, they frequently dismiss controlled experiments on laboratory animals, arguing that the results are not directly applicable to humans.

They ignore that animal tests are the first step in the drug approval process and very often good indicators of the success or failure of a new drug.

The next step in a pharmaceutical trial is a controlled clinical test on human beings first to to prove safety then, efficacy.

That direct proof of safety or harm that the chemical advocates seek is, however, unethical given the thousands of epidemiological and laboratory studies showing harm.

(For more, see Human Experimentation: An Introduction to the Ethical Issues).

Deliberately exposing humans to chemical suspected of, or linked to harm would never be approved by any American university’s Committee for Human Research such as this one at the University of California, San Francisco: Committee on Human Research (CHR) is UCSF’s Institutional Review Board (IRB).

The Modest Proposal

While controversial, it would still be likely that a university CHR would approve as ethical, a “proof of concept” study.

For association execs Schoon and Powers to have credibility for their safety messages, they should volunteer as test subjects to be exposed to the same mixture of chemicals as used in nail salons.

This would be a small group of willing participants in controlled exposure to chemicals that fulfill four requirements:

  1. They are volunteers,
  2. They believe the chemicals are safe,
  3. Government regulatory agencies consider the substances acceptable for use in consumer products, environmental exposures and in the work place, and,
  4. The experiment is designed and run by scientists at acclaimed universities who have no current or previous conflicts of interest including previous employment by or grants from the industries involved.

Even greater credibility would be gained by having additional volunteers for the experiment from companies involved in the manufacture, distribution and sale of those chemicals.

A Final Note: Chemical Advocates’ Weakest Defense: Trust The Federal Government

This page offers 16 links that describe in detail:  Why You Can’t Trust Government Science.

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