NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 17, 2004

Public policies designed to protect people from chemicals and environmental hazards often bypass solid scientific evidence, costing American wealth and resources. Furthermore, they produce little, if any benefit, says the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

For example:

  • Environmental justice and women's groups have pressured some cosmetics companies to remove phthalates (alleged to cause cancer and birth defects) from their products; however, no evidence suggests that current exposure levels pose health hazards.
  • President Bush imposed stricter arsenic standards for drinking water in 2001 despite the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) own admission that the cost of new compliance standards would far outweigh benefits; indeed new standards cost water suppliers $604 million annually.
  • Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality is considering 9,000 Midland properties hazardous waste sites after finding dioxin in only 22 soil samples, despite the fact that half of those samples were within the state's dioxin limits.

The ignorance of science in decision-making is hardly surprising, says Mackinac, considering that the United States ranks poorly in science education, with test rankings actually dropping between 1995 and 1999.

To make matters worse, the media successfully plays up "phantom" risks. Diverting the nation's wealth to such negligible risks ends up lowering per capita wealth, which in turn degrades the environment. Indeed, less-developed countries tend to be the most polluted, says Mackinac.

Source: Diane Katz, "When Politics Trumps Science," Viewpoint on Public Issues, September 6, 2004, Mackinac Center on Public Policy.

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