Monday, May 10, 2010

The Alar Story

By Rich Kozlovich

The Alar story is a most enlightening account of how abuse of bureaucratic power, scare mongering by the media, and self enrichment by the green activists can create a real mess. If you ask most people who are somewhat familiar with this story how it all got started they will tell you that it was the 60 Minutes broadcast that did it. That is inaccurate; although the 60 Minutes segment set the story on fire, if you dig deeply into the whole Alar story you find that it takes so many twists and turns that it is hard to believe; but this is how the whole thing started.

In 1982 the EPA got caught up in a superfund scandal. By March of 1983 EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford resigned after finding herself in a bureaucratic mess between the EPA and the Department of Justice in an attempt to deal with this scandal. One prominent EPA staffer was fired and others left.

What has this to do with Alar? Everything! Because of the black eye EPA received over this it was decided that something had to be done to restore their credibility to the public. So what did they do? They felt that they needed to ban something, and since anti-pesticide activists love anyone who wants to ban something, they started looking around and viola; Alar was to be the target.

Why Alar? It had been used successfully as a growth regulator to keep apples from falling off trees since 1963. In 1983 the EPA placed Alar under “special review” and in 1984 they claimed that Alar was a potential carcinogen for children because after administering massive doses of Alar to mice tests showed that that it might cause cancer. It might be noted that rodent testing as a determinate as to what is carcinogenic has come under attack from the scientific community. Although critics of this procedure don’t disavow the value of using rodent testing, they dismiss the idea that EPA should be determining what is carcinogenic based on rodent testing alone.

On August 23, 2005 the American Council on Science and Health petitioned the EPA to “eliminate "junk science" from the process by which it determines whether a substance is likely to cause cancer in humans” under the Information Quality Act (IQA), which requires the government to use the best science available. Nearly five months later the EPA responded by “claiming that their Risk Assessment Guidelines are not statements of scientific fact -- and thus not covered by the IQA -- but merely statements of EPA policy.” If their policy guidelines aren’t based on scientific fact, what are they based on? What were they based on in 1985?

The reality is that in 1985 the EPA own “Scientific Advisory Panel” concluded that the laboratory animal studies of Alar were too flawed to use.” However, the anti-chemical people became involved to “help” EPA to ban Alar, because no matter how much they studied the matter EPA couldn’t develop enough evidence to justify banning Alar.

Eventually facts and studies were irrelevant. The NRDC, through Fenton Communications, a public relations firm that seems to specialize in representing radical environmental groups, approached 60 Minutes with this unwarranted health scare.

“Following the release of a report called “Intolerable Risk” — which claimed that Alar was “the most potent cancer-causing agent in our food supply” and blamed the chemical for “as many as 5,300” childhood cancer cases — Fenton and NRDC went on a five-month media blitz. The campaign kicked off with a CBS 60 Minutes feature seen by over 50 million Americans. Despite the fact that the claims were completely unfounded, hysteria set in. Apples were pulled off of grocery shelves, schools stopped serving them at lunch, and apple growers nationwide lost over $250 million.”

However, “from the standpoint of the NRDC and Fenton Communications, the campaign against Alar had been a phenomenal success. The public had been panicked, the product had been destroyed, and a major media organization, 60 minutes, had been a willing tool in carrying out the operation. Further, membership and contributions to the NRDC increased.” Worse yet, “after the election of President Clinton, the EPA ceased being an unwitting participant in the toxic scare campaign.”

“The Wall Street Journal printed one of David Fenton’s internal memos, after the Alar-on-apples scandal was publicly debunked. Here’s Fenton in his own words: “We designed [the Alar Campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the Donahue show. And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.”

Dr. Elizabeth Whelan states that “the Alar scare was totally without scientific merit. By the early 1990s, authorities ranging from the World Health Organization to U. S. surgeon general C. Everett Koop confirmed that there was never any health risk posed by the use of Alar. Even the late Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes, told me that he regretted having done the Alar segment, but Ed Bradley, the producer of the piece, refused to retract it.”

When junk science becomes policy it is because the policy was already a conclusion in search of data. And when there is no data available… then apparently any old conclusion will do.

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