Thursday, June 01, 2006

Risk tradeoffs

Environmental Defence released a roport today describing a study blood samples were collected from several families across Canada and then tested for various toxins. The most important finding appears to be that many of the children have higher blood levels of some toxins than their parents do.

This is worrisome - after all, these kids have years of exposure left ahead of them. The main chemicals of concern are those used in flame retardants and stain-resistant clothing - chemicals which are extensively used today.

The story seems to have been extensively picked up by the media - and of course Canadians should be kept informed about potential risks like this.


The way the media handles stories like this sometimes bugs me - it often feels alarmist. Here are some things that bothered me this time around:

1. in no secondary report could I actually find what the measured levels were! (I have now downloaded the original report which does contain this information - and have realized that I don't have the expertise to interpret the levels of risk associated with these exposures anyway. )

2. the report also concludes that for substances which have been regulated, childrens' blood levels were lower than their parents'. This was not the highlight of the news stories - but is equally important information IMO.

3. sometimes the cost-benefit implications of getting rid of a chemical should be considered - what is the risk of chronic exposure to flame retardants versus the number of kids who are likely to be more severely burned in their absence? Is there an alternative that we know is safe? I don't know the answer to those questions and I'd like to.

Thanks to Caroline who pointed out the report to me this morning

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