Help! My Couch Is Leeching Cancer-Causing Dust.

By Keith Kloor | December 3, 2012 11:00 am

My wife, bless her heart, goes the extra mile to protect our two boys from ubiquitous nasties, like BPA chemicals, pesticides, and high fructose corn syrup. It’s a fairly impossible task to avoid such exposures in the modern world. Still, the kids have a virtual organic food diet and all our household cleaners are eco-friendly, nice-smelling, biodegradable products. (It makes washing dishes a morally righteous experience.)

I’m a little more lax. For example, I don’t agree with the Fatwa against Pop Tarts. I’m getting better, though; on those infrequent occasions the boys convince me to stop at McDonald’s (when Mom works late), I make sure to substitute the apple slices for french fries. When I was a kid, that sort of deprivation would have been grounds for cruel and unusual punishment. But hey, we live in a different era today.

So with all these health measures in place, it’s a little unnerving to learn that my children are still being exposed to cancer-causing properties in everyday items. Several months ago, just before the new school year started, I saw on TV how toxic chemicals had been found in school supplies. WTF! Now, in addition to the toxic odor in the school cafeteria (our precious ones bring home-made lunches), I have to worry about the cancerous contaminants embedded in their lunch-boxes and backpacks.

Last week brought even worse news. My couch is poisoning our family. As Mother Jones reports:

new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that 85 percent of the sofas researchers tested contained flame-retardant chemicals that have been identified as carcinogens and potential neurotoxins.

This grim finding received widespread media coverage. Journalists, understandably, struggled to make sense of it. Few put the information in a helpful context. One of the better stories came from ABC News, which included this quote:

“Some of the chemicals in the flame-retardant group are stronger than others and last longer in our bodies,” Dr. Marcel Casavant, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, said.

“There’s really very limited data on whether  these chemicals actually cause trouble to humans. They do accumulate in humans. We do absorb them and store them in our tissues, but we don’t know the real effect curve.”

After absorbing this worrisome news, I tweeted a stream of snark about my toxy, flame retardant filled couch. Had it endangered my family? We’ve had it as long as my oldest–who just turned eight. It’s like discovering someone you thought you knew is really a heartless killer.

This seems so unfair since my wife and I had already done our “household chemical purge,” which as the NYT notes, has become a ritual of new parenthood:

Talk to pediatricians, medical historians and environmental scientists, and they will tell you the social phenomenon hasn’t been studied much. Depending on whom you ask, it’s a media-induced mass hysteria, an eco-marketing trend, a public health campaign or a stealth environmental movement “” possibly all of the above.

By now, some readers will practically be shouting: Everything gives you cancer! Indeed, as one Guardian writer brilliantly laid out a decade ago, that is true. And the media, bless its heart, informs us about every possible cancerous connection to 21st century life. Some outlets just do it with more gusto than others.

None of this is to deny the dangers posed by ATM receipts. (I now wear gloves when holding them.) I’ll also leave it to others to question the scientific literacy of influential thought leaders who have come down with a bad case of “chemphobia.”

In all seriousness, as science writer Deborah Blum says,

there are evil industrial chemicals out there. And, in many cases, they aren’t as well researched or as well regulated  as they should be.

I have no doubt that Big Chem would rather keep us in the dark, which tends to make people a little suspicious. Unfortunately, environmental crusaders (and their enablers in the media) too often conclude the worst about the not so well understood effects of chemicals commonly found in just about everything we come into contact with.

So what is the media’s responsibility in sorting all this out? Blum offered some excellent advice in a post earlier this year:

…if we, as journalists, are going to demand meticulous standards for the study and oversight of chemical compounds then we should try to be meticulous ourselves in making the case [for any health concerns].

This is a reasonable argument for context and nuance. Why? There is a constant bombardment of “everything gives you cancer” studies that the media dutifully reports, rather simplistically. It’s time, as Blum and others have pleaded, for journalists and pundits to go beyond the sensationalist, good-vs-evil frame.

Meanwhile, can somebody tell me what to do about my couch?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: chemicals, science journalism
  • John F. Pittman

    Sit on it while you contemplate all the toxins found in plants and animals that cause death and cancer by contact or consumption. It may make you appreciate that fire retardants are added due to the reasoned outcry of how many things, including natural fibers, burn and cause death, illness, and economic loss. Then consider that many of the reasons an item is as it is, is from manufacturers listening to input, or being forced from regulations that were enacted for some reason or public outcry. There are few simple answers to what we experience in life.

  • Roddy Campbell

    Meanwhile, can somebody tell me what to do about my couch? – Keep tweeting about it, I’m loving it.Or have a go at CASH, a ‘charity’ that says ‘The biggest survey of its kind reveals the alarming amounts of salt hidden in cheese’and ‘New research reveals high and unnecessary levels of salt in bacon’and ‘Dangerous levels of salt found in Great British Banger’ and even ‘A Valentine’s Day meal could contain more than an adult’s recommended daily maximum of 6g of salt ‘Shut up already. 

  • Kuze

    Frankly there are far more important things to worry about. For example, are you certain there isn’t any GMO cotton in your couch?

  • Joshua

    Unfortunately, environmental crusaders (and their enablers in the media)
    too often conclude the worst about the not so well understood effects
    of chemicals commonly found in many products, packaging, and foods.

    Surprise! I think that your framing of this issue is distorted. You see these reports about carcinogens in couches and find a way to find environmentalists at fault? Is there no end to the amount of problems you will lay at the feet of environmentalists, Keith? What’s next – are you going to blame fear of witches in Salem on hippies?

    First, the media is hardly limited to being “enablers.” Media hype about germs or a wide assortment of hazards is hardly caused by environmentalists or merely “enabled” by the media. And hyped-up fear of hazards is hardly limited to environmental concerns. Consider hyped-up concern about terrorism, for example. Or “evil empires.”

    That isn’t to say that it doesn’t make sense to call for the media to be more thorough in presenting balanced risk assessments, and it isn’t to say that there aren’t many people, environmentalists included, who conclude the worst without sufficient evidence.

    Maybe you should consider evaluating more carefully the cause and effect you assert between environmentalism and  societal phenomena?

  • willard

    In all fairness, I should say that the Daily song previously appeared in one of BBD’s comment at Keith’s, where I stole it:

    Tumblr is down, so I can’t provide more info for now. And since it was not an explicit link, I can’t find it back in Keith’s archives.

  • Roddy Campbell

    Joshua, it’s not complicated.  It’s a version of crying wolf.  Life’s full of risk.  And when it seems sometimes to be environmentalism’s job just to tell us we’re in danger, some frustration at the frequent lack of judgement is understandable.  And the impact is we may stop listening.  I think Keith’s couch is a great, precisely because trivial, example, and his snark entirely proportionate.

  • Keith Kloor


    I honestly don’t remember that comment and I know that I have never seen the video until Richard Betts and Oliver Morton pointed it out to me on Twitter over the weekend.

    Joshua (4)

    No surprise that you take exception to that phrase in my post. As much as you may not want to admit it, greens play a big role in putting out such studies and fanning the chem fears. Fortunately for you, I’ll be doing another post on this some time in the near future. Lucky you!

  • Kuze

    “Yes but, you shouldn’t ever say anything bad about environmentalism because they are my sacred tribe” -Every Joshua comment ever.

  • Tom Scharf

    It really starts in academia.  The path to success is publishing “important” papers, where being right isn’t necessarily well correlated with being “important”.  A new carcinogen link is always worth some media exposure.

    Nobody really pays much attention to the dubious statistical “linked to” cancer stories anymore.  It was a huge rage in the 70’s and 80’s, but it burnt itself out.  Maybe it is time for a new generation to go through its hyper paranoid phase.

    I suggest anyone looking to understand what cancer really is, to read the “Emperor of All Maladies”.  Pulitzer prize winner in non-fiction a couple years ago.  You’ll never listen to a your couch causes cancer story again in the same light.

  • Robyn Michele Levy

    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!  Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!
    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!

    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!

    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!

    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!

    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!

    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!

    Yikes! Ha Ha Ha!

  • Joshua

    Roddy (6) –

    I think it is rather ironic to (rightly) focus on sloppiness in addressing, or outright exploiting, the difference between causation and correlation – by (wrongly) sloppily addressing (or not in Keith’s case, outright exploiting) the differences between correlation and causation. Suggesting that environmentalists cause concerns about carcinogens in couches goes a tad far in my book.

    Of course, like Tom S says, it isn’t Keith’s fault when he does that. It’s the fault of those librul academics!

    Keith (7) –

    …greens play a big role in putting out such studies and fanning the chem fears.

    The problem, IMO, is a lack of quantification to the effect you focus on – or apparently even a lack of concern on  your part that it is important to quantify that effect. I don’t doubt that the problem you’re describing is real to some extent. But what extent? Should n’t quantification be the point of focus? Would that be the approach that is consistent with your concerns?

    What is the effect relative to profit-motive in the media? What is the effect relative to more general attributes in how humans approach risk assessment? What is the ramifications of the effect when seen in full context against the opposing political and/or social forces (corporate interests in diminishing real dangers, rightwing interests in fear-mongering about environmentalists, etc.)?

  • Gaythia Weis

    My opinion is that how you use things matters.

    Is your sofa a futon that someone sleeps on on a regular basis? A children’s trampoline? An overstuffed version that you bury your face in to muffle the snoring?

    If you vacuum it does your vacuum actually collect dust particles or merely redistribute said particles into the air?

    On a larger scale, how well ventilated is your apartment, anyway? Maybe your cabinets or carpets are out gassing formaldehyde. Maybe particulate matter is being pulled in from the streets.

    I’m guessing that the real reason that you may have gloves on at the ATM machine is that your hands would otherwise be cold.

    I do think this may be an issue for clerks in grocery stores who are handling huge numbers of these receipts every day. Otherwise, not so much.

  • Keith Kloor

    Gaythia (12)

     “Is your sofa a futon that someone sleeps on on a regular basis? A children’s trampoline? An overstuffed version that you bury your face in to muffle the snoring?”

    We are so doomed!

    Joshua (11)

    I’m get right on that quantification study. Check back in about six months.

  • Joshua

    (1) How might we quantify the impact of fear-mongering from environmentalists? Economic impact? Deaths caused? (and I’m not talking about inherently speculative, weak counterfactuals about how tens of millions died because of Silent Spring).

    (2) How might we go about comparing that to the impact of industrial waste, environmental degradation, introduction of toxins into our day-to-day lives from the manufacture of consumer goods?

    Keeping in mind that on top of those very difficult assessments, to really understand the meaning of the impact, we’d need to control our assessments for differential impact on people from different SES status and in different countries.

    IMO – facile assumption about #2 are no better or enlightening or useful or productive than facile assumptions about #1. Further, adding to the problem, either assessment is incredibly complicated and difficult unto itself, but one made absent the context provided by the other is inherently problematic.

  • willard


    Seems I posted that vid on the 1st of July.

    So I went back to your archives of June (one can do that in WP blogs by chopping the URL to the month, i.e. …/2012/06). Then I noted your titles for your June posts (in reverse chronological order):

    The Future That Won’t be Denied
    When GMO Scare Stories Go Viral
    The Lessons (and Echoes) of Silent Spring
    Look Beyond the Scientific Veneer of a GMO Report
    No Denying the Implied Context for Climate Denier
    When a Science Journal Uses Loaded Language
    What Values Inform Our Ecological Debates?
    Chasing Shadows
    If Climate Information Were Perfect
    Advancing the Planetary Boundaries Hypothesis

    (I wonder if we finally found out what were the values behind our ecological debates.)

    Then I found out that I did not stole the link from BBD, but from Louise:

    So a belated thank you, Louise.

  • Tom Scharf

    A comment on the “dubious” statistics of carcinogen linkage:

    Random chaotic processes do not have uniform distributions.  So if you examine a scatter plot of random data, you will find areas where a proportionally larger number of random data points lie (and areas where fewer points lie).  “Cancer clusters” were in vogue for a while from people cherry picking a random area of higher cancer rates and then going into this area and looking for a “cause”.   Not surprisingly, the “cause” many times ended up being the local business with the deepest pockets.   

    Another variant of this same problem is data mining.  If a set of 100,000 people are asked an enormous amount of questions about lifestyle, their product usage, and then followed through life and their health problem documented, you build a large database to look for possible linkages.  Inevitably you find a lot of correlations.  Alcohol intake causes lung cancer.  No, actually smoking does, but smokers may also disproportionately consume alcohol at a higher rate.  You get the idea.  Large data sets are going to have some number of false correlations as well.  This is really a “soft” science, and they are very guilty of the correlation = causation fallacy.  

    Injecting rats with relatively enormous quantities of chemicals and studying that result to see how it relates to humans is also pretty dubious.  See the recent French study on GMO’s. There are too many ways a scientist with a bad case of confirmation bias can do this stuff wrong. I’m not saying it is malicious in most cases.

    There is a way to do this type of science correctly of course.  But you have to be careful.  And you need to know what you are doing.  Too many times when doing it correctly results in insignificant findings, there is a tendency to explore alternate incorrect ways to find something potentially significant. “New” statistical methods, for example.  Telling the difference is no easy task. 

  • BillC

    Neat. More toxicology posts please!Nobody mentioned yet that these chemicals were added in response to regulations I think first imposed in California (where else?!) about fire safety, or that nobody smokes on their couch any more (may have statistical validity depending on how you define “nobody”). (Sourced from the comments to the original article).

  • Keith Kloor

    Willard (15)

    I’m starting to think you have too much time on your hands.

    BillC (17)

    I’m aware of that (in “response to regulations”) and I’m also aware of this, all of which will be discussed in a future toxicology post or piece elsewhere.

  • Tom Scharf

    #11 Joshua,  there are studies out that a show a significant proportion of new important findings are later found to be wrong, particularly in bio-medicine.  I can’t remember the exact number, 40%?  It has been documented and quantified (you can Google it yourself).  Now what?  Whack a mole? Change the topic?  Answer: Talk about anything other than the Green’s culpability in promoting bad science that suits their agenda?

  • Stu

    Since we now have a new baby, we are also undergoing a chem-purge. On the shopping list on my wife’s insistence is a very expensive reverse osmosis water filter, and we have a new, large air purifier in baby’s room. Of course baby’s food is totally organic, and we are not far behind ourselves… … I understand couches become more benign the older they are. Keith you’ll want to get yourself a nice antique. 😉

  • Keith Kloor

     Stu (20)

    Congrats. Have you seen this movie? Terrific cross cultural comparison of how babies/kids are raised.

  • BillC

    Keith,I took a quick look at that. Looking forward to it.

  • Nullius in Verba


    “Fortunately for you, I’ll be doing another post on this some time in the near future. Lucky you!”

    When you do, you might want to add a bit about what’s in those organic vegetables! Here’s some further useful material. The author Bruce Ames was another interesting character.

  • willard

    Thank you, Keith. You’re right: I should get on with the program of doing journalism about journalism. Sounds so much fun to hammer on other tribe members’ exagerations.

    If you’re into that sugar stuff, you should remind Miss Scape that fries is one of the seven stuff McDo sells that does not contain it:

    1. French fries (salt, starch, fat)
    2. Hash browns (salt, starch, fat)
    3. Chicken McNuggets (salt, starch, fat)
    4. Sausage
    5. Diet Coke
    6. Coffee
    7. Tea

    With less than 20g of glucids per 100g, potatoes ain’t that bad. And when fried, they come with oil to boot. But then, we’re not talking about potato flakes, which are basically glucids (81g / 100g).

  • BillC

    Keith, OK you got me hooked. I read the whole thing. It strikes me as overly sensational, and the toxicity part is probably the weakest link. the rest – well, it fits with my dim view of human nature (2 ways to make a living – break your body, or bend your principles). Nevertheless it’s an important issue.

  • Jeffn

    We had our baby boy two months ago. Does breast-fed count as organic or does it depend on the momma’s diet?
    Seems to me that the diapers wrapped around him 24/7 would a greater concern than the few minutes on the couch. But we seem to have a dog hair barrier in place to prevent couch cancer (is there a ribbon for that yet and does the color match our walls?)

  • Tom Scharf

    Just wait until they are teenagers.  Household chemicals are the last thing you are going to be worrying about.  Auto accidents being one of the leading causes of teenage deaths.  Prescription drug overdoses and up and coming contender.  Oxycontin overdose deaths were greater than all illicit drug overdose deaths combined in the county where I live.  I haven’t checked, but these two combined probably exceed the number of GMO related deaths, slightly.  The groups that fight these have their priorities straight.

  • harrywr2

    Welcome to Parenthood Keith.All things in some quantity will harm your children. Having said that, the overwhelming majority of today’s children will live well past 80 years of age.

  • Tom C

    Keith – You just noticed that Willard has too much time on his hands? Did you not notice that he has catalogued all 645,715 comments appearing on “climateaudit” over the past 5 years?

  • willard

    Tom C,

    Thank you for the compliment, but I must admit that I have not catalogued that much comments.

    wget did.

  • Tom C

    Input your comments here…

  • Tom C

    Keith – BTW, if your couch were really “leeching” you would be well-advised to not let your kids sit on it.  If it is just “leaching” that is a different matter and I would not worry.

  • Tom C

    Joshua – Your comments 11 and 14 are really beyond parody.  Keith merely points out that we have been inundated for years, if not decades, with claims about all the ordinary things we encounter that supposedly “cause cancer”.  Nearly everyone harbors some degree of skepticism about these claims.  The obvious downside to believeing that all of them are equally serious is that life becomes filled with paranoia and neurosis.  Not to mention that serious risks are not separated from frivolous ones. Into this fairly universal, at least in the West, experience, you charge, demanding that proper studies, controls, blah, blah, be performed.  Unbelievable. 

  • Joshua

    Tom C –

    The obvious downside to believeing that all of them are equally serious
    is that life becomes filled with paranoia and neurosis.  Not to mention
    that serious risks are not separated from frivolous ones. Into this
    fairly universal, at least in the West, experience,

    Once again, you provide brilliant analysis that cuts right to the heart of the matter. Paranoia and neurosis didn’t exist until the recent focus of environmentalists on over-hyping cancer risks. Certainly, ill-placed concern about frivolous risks is a new phenomenon, and doesn’t exist outside the West (no doubt, because outside the West, environmentalists are few and far between).

    For example, it is little known that the first stories about vampires were directly attributable to a cult of 19th Century environmentalists. Cyclops? Cerebus? The Sphinx? Medusa? The Harpies? Minotaurs? The Nemean Lion? The Lernaean Hydra? All myths created by fear-mongering Ancient Greek environmentalists. Drilling holes in the head to treat mental illness (trepanning)? Yup, you guessed it; that practice has been traced back to the early environmentalists of 5,000 B.C.

    Need I go on?

  • Matt B

    Lead paint has been linked to childhood learning disorders and delayed development. In the US lead paint for indoor use has been banned since 1978. One would hope that the banning of lead paint would lead to smarter kids.

    My two were born in 1990 & 1994. I have observed them and their friends for years. It is my opinion that the reduction of lead paint in the home has not resulted in smarter kids.

  • Michael Larkin

    It could be something to do with increasing atheism: the most irresponsible thing a person can do is to hasten the annihilation that death is thought to bring. Life is then about postponing the grim reaper, which carried to a certain level becomes an exercise in the paranoid avoidance of even the slightest risk. We do so like our bogeymen–after all, horror flicks are a very popular genre, and maybe the kick we get out of them is the sense of still being alive and well when the credits roll.

    Here in the developed nations, some seem to enjoy nothing more than obsessively worrying about what may never come to pass, and even proselytising the panic. I have the image of a high street peppered with weirdos waving “The end is nigh” banners. Other folk are weaving their way around them, minding their own business and no one else’s. If they want to eat, drink and be merry, there is at least as much logic in that as being a miserable sod; after all, we’re all going to pop our clogs, and nothing we do on this microscopic dot matters a jot any way.

    Back in the day when God existed, there were no fewer weirdos with banners, but at least the fear didn’t contradict the beliefs on which it was based.

  • Ben

    I must say this is the worst post I have seen here. Here is an idea look up the exposure doses and calculate what an equivalent dose would be for your children then realize you would need to allow them to eat the entire couch to have an equivalent dose.  Then shake your head and call them all just as goofy as the GMO food people.Bleh disappointment abounds

  • Keith Kloor

    Ben (37)

    I guess you didn’t pick up on the tone of the post. Oh well, something more straightforward is in the works.

  • Ben

    I got the tone that you think the media has gone to far but unless you were exaggerating the parts about your own lifestyle you have chosen to indulge your wife in far to many similar claims already.When my wife comes home and says so and so mentioned they found XYZ to be dangerous for our baby/cat/dog/us I say well lets look at the study. We have yet to make it to a “purge” point because on further scrutiny they all fall apart.  The article says to me I will go along with them half way to crazy town but when they get to receipts and sofa’s its to far for me I will get off this train here.Just like organic doesn’t mean no pesticides and free range doesn’t mean no hormones most of these studies are as bad as the ones you nail about GMO foods.We have an 8 month old my wife buys the organic baby food but only if its on sale at the same price as regular. When I go we end up with whatever was the best price.  eh to each his own I guess I just expected something else from you.

  • harrywr2

    #35 Matt B

    Lead paint has been linked to childhood learning disorders and delayed
    development. In the US lead paint for indoor use has been banned since

    The problem with lead paint was ingestion and poor nutrition.I.E. A child being given a proper amount of nutrients won’t absorb the lead at the same rate as a poorly nourished child. There is also the ‘ingestion route’. A properly disciplined child will quickly learn that eating paint chips earns a punishment, regardless of what kind of paint it is.There is some minor inhalation risk of lead paint if the slides in the window had been painted with lead paint. The dust formed by the wearing of the paint as the window is opened and closed poses a potential ingestion pathway, either thru inhalation or licking the window slides. But again, if the windows are being regularly cleaned it’s not even a minor problem.As with many rules…they were put in place because a small segment of the population was unwilling or unable to act responsibly.

  • grypo

    Still fightin’ the lead paint fight!

  • harrywr2

    #41 Grypo,

    Still fightin’ the lead paint fight!

    My wife owns two rental properties built in the 1930’s. We are required by law to inform renters about the hazards of lead paint.The EPA booklet on the do’s and dont’s of living in a house with lead based paint. particularly like this statement by the EPA.

    FACT: People have many options for reducinglead hazards. In most cases, lead-based paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.

  • Ed Forbes

    My fondest memories of the “cancer risk” studies was that eating bacon caused cancer. Dig into the studies and one found that the poundage, that could be reasonably listed in tons, of bacon one had to eat on a regular basis to significantly increase ones risk of cancer.I do not know about you, but I list my bacon intake by the strip, not the ton. :-)

  • grypo

    I have no idea what your point is. So are you saying that the answer to the lead poisoning problem is to make sure lead paint is kept in good condition in perpetuity? That all parents be good parents? That all toddlers learn from whatever punishment is given to them? Hope that all children are well nourished at all times? Considering the stats on lead poisoning over that past few decades are positive, can’t we just say, hey good on us and move on? Is it really worth it to fight this on fact free, ideological grounds? Really? Lead paint? It does appear MattB has interesting observations. Perhaps we should go with those and forget all the sciency numbers stuff.

  • Joshua

    Seriously, harry – what was your point?

  • Howard

    It all comes down to a proper exposure assessment.  The article says that is the next step.  However, there are many, many, many other sources of unregulated VOC indoor air pollution above the concentrations at 10E-6 cancer standard.  I know because I have measured indoor air pollution using TO-15 methods.  What is not understood is the cumulative effects of these VOCs.  Throw radon and dust mites in the mix and a very tight energy efficient house and you then might wonder why asthma and allergies are not more prevalent.  It’s not hype, it’s a real problem that should be studied and solved before we worry about CO2. 

  • Howard

    Joshua:  Harry’s point is that lead paint is mostly safe unless you live in a ghetto.  Complete exposure pathways and exposure point dosage over time are more important than the source concentration. 

  • Joshua

    Stating facts seems rather w/o a point here. Is the intent merely to be informative, or to make some kind of an argument about government regulation, how concerns about lead paint are inflated, etc.?

  • Howard

    Get over yourself Joshua.  The facts are the point.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  Your search for deeper, hidden meaning is usless: you constantly drown in your own meaningless thoughts.  Study the rational philosophy of the anti-guru Judda Krishnamurti, then accept the universe.  IOW, grow a pair and grow up.

  • Joshua

    Howard – I’m not searching for a deeper, hidden meaning. I’m asking Howard if he had a point. If I find something you write to be interesting enough to ask for clarification, I’ll ask. No need for you to jump in and speak for harry.

  • kdk33

    I don’t know what you guys are going on about.  The cell phone is gonna kill you, if you don’t die from exposure to high voltage power lines first.  Try to keep your risks in perspective.

  • MarkB

    The following link is to an interview I head on NPR of the author of a new book about breasts. The author – with her enabler/host – lay out the scary news about all the terrible chemicals found in breast milk and breast tissue. Yes, the flame retardants in furniture were mentioned. Near the end of the interview, the host asks ‘So, did you get rid of your furniture?’ Good question. Answer? ‘Well, no.’ So after a book full of scare stories, the author’s opinion is that it really doesn’t matter. Yet she’s happy to make money scaring the bejesus out of middle class white women.Of course, no one mentions that fire retardant saves lives. Why mess up a good environmental scare story?

  • harrywr2

    #45 Joshua,My point was that lead paint, absent an ingestion pathway and absent a malnourished child does not present a ‘significant health threat’. Even the EPA says so in the pamphlet that I am required by law to give to tenants.I look after two houses with ‘lead based paint’. Neither has any ‘chipping paint’. I also wax, rather then paint the window slides.So there is no ingestion pathway other then chewing on the woodwork or if someone ‘accidently’ knocks a hole in the wall.

    The average fractional gastrointestinal absorption of lead is much greater in infants and young children than in adults,6 and absorption is increased in the presence of nutritional deficiencies that are more common in children than in adults (eg,
    iron, calcium)

    All it takes to solve the iron and calcium deficiencies are iron fortified
    wheat and/or milk. Given that we provide financial  ‘assistance’ to poor families in order to insure their children don’t have nutritional deficiencies there is obviously something wrong with the parents if their children have nutritional deficiencies.(absent a specific medical condition).Even the UN food programs for the ultra-poor supply iron-fortified wheat. It’s a ‘standard’ public health item.Poorly maintained housing and  malnourished children and lead paint don’t mix. So we banned the lead paint. Here are the HUD guidelines for homes with lead based paint. 8 recipients with a 6 year old or younger child can live in houses with lead based paint as long as it’s not peeling. It only took until 1995 to promulgate the ‘no peeling paint rule’. Of course if they don’t have children living in the house younger then 6’s okay for the paint to be peeling. So the whole ‘lead based paint’ issue is for people who can’t/won’t properly maintain their living space and can’t/won’t properly nourish their children and can’t/won’t teach there children that somethings do not belong in their mouth’s.

  • Joshua

    Yet she’s happy to make money scaring the bejesus out of middle class white women.

    Quite interesting how MarkB assumes that middle class white women are incapable of evaluating information for themselves. I guess their only options are to be scared by the author, or to listen to folks like MarkB tell them what to think. Kind of reminds me of…:

    unless you were exaggerating the parts about your own lifestyle you
    have chosen to indulge your wife in far to many similar claims already.

    Lol!. Yeah, I’m sure that Keith’s wife only gets away with what he “undulge[‘s her] in.” I mean it’s not like she gets to make decisions on her own, right? 

    Right Keith?

  • steven mosher

    “I have no idea what your point is”

    ya he makes no sense.

    chewbacka evolved.

    you could have tried to make sense of his point.
    It was pretty clear to me.
    go ahead try

  • steven mosher

    Joshua his point was simple.
    See the last sentence. he believes that sometimes rules are put in place because a small number of folks refuse to take personal responsibility.

    When challenged he cites the EPA which notes the general safety of lead paint under certain circumstance.

    I think you can agree with him that in some cases we do make rules for all because a few people

    A) refuse to take responsibility for their own safety
    B) are unable to ( the young)

    So, while I might keep my lead paint in order for my tenets, not all landlords will, and we do in fact create rules ( say.. motorcycle helmets, seat belts ) because some refuse to take responsibility for themselves and also ( say child safety seats ) because some are unable to take responsibility for themselves.

    His point was entirely understandable to me, I happen to think that its a bit narrow and misses some of the finer points of certain cases. We can also acknowledge that this kind of rule making may carry certain negative consequences that are very hard to measure or substantiate, naemly the notion that its governments job to protect me from myself. Hard to measure, but not outside the realm of the possible.

  • Jeff N

    Lead paint and couches are nothing  to worry about it is bounce houses that are
    hurting our kids. 

    If this was an infectious disease,
    we’d call it an epidemic and it would be on the front pages all over the
    country,” said study co-author Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the Center
    for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in
    Columbus, Ohio

  • Keith Kloor

    MarkB (52)

    A couple of things. 

    1) Florence Williams is not just an excellent, highly respected journalist, she’s a friend of mine and my family’s.

    2) I’ve also read her book and it’s not full of scare stories. In the book–as well as in the NPR radio interview–she’s quite measured about the findings related to flame retardants and other chemicals. She does not advocate people getting overanxious about all this stuff or throwing out their furniture and such. To her, the many studies done on these chemicals “raise questions” that are worth pursuing. I have no problem with that.

    As it happens, I’ll have more to say on all this and will be quoting from Florence.

  • Vinny Burgoo

    Some fun factoids about ‘chemicals’. In a 2009 survey, US toxicologists rated flame retardants (PBDEs) as about as risky as corn syrup. (% of toxicologists saying PBDEs, corn syrup are ‘high risk’: 10, 11. % saying ‘medium risk’: 35, 36. Corn syrup presumably risky because of diabetes.)

    The survey also rated the reliability of various organizations when talking about ‘chemicals’. 96% of the toxicologists said that Greenpeace overstates the risk of ‘chemicals’. 85% said that the NYT, WaPo and WSJ do the same. About 60% think that Big Chem understates risks.

    Other fun factoids here (and at the linked PDF):

  • Joshua

    he believes that sometimes rules are put in place because a small number of folks refuse to take personal responsibility.

    When I think of a “point,” I think of  thesis – IOW something that is inherently arguable. I’m not seeing something arguable there. 

    I think you can agree with him that in some cases we do make rules for all because a few people
    A) refuse to take responsibility for their own safety
    B) are unable to ( the young)

    Sure. But not arguable. No thesis (and I would say incomplete; certainly it is not only the young who are ‘unable” to varying degrees for varying reasons, and what does “a few people” mean? How is that quantity validated?).

    His point was entirely understandable to me, I happen to think that its a
    bit narrow and misses some of the finer points of certain cases.

    Now that suggests that his point (thesis) is something arguable – which is why I was asking if he could be more explicit. Was his point that we shouldn’t have “rules” in situations like this? Was his point that there shouldn’t be laws mandating landlords to deal with lead paint? That there shouldn’t be laws making the use of lead in paint illegal? And if so, how do we prevent such laws from being created? Should we dismantle regulatory agencies and in fact, even our legislatures where elected representatives will inevitably be tempted to create such laws? Is the argument that we’d be better off with such laws substantiated by consideration of a full cost analysis – including the economic benefits to the general public from the existence of such laws (assuming they result in fewer deaths, fewer affected children who grow up to be less productive adults, etc.)?

  • Joshua

    And while we’re at it, should we also not have laws to test toys for lead content (as was the case with those toys from China) – since good parents would teach children it isn’t a good idea for them to put any toys in their mouths?

  • Joshua

    Interesting article – detailing the extent of the problem, drops in lead poisoning among children (no doubt also due, in part, to laws eliminating lead in gasoline):

    I wonder how many of my CAS friends would support “government intervention” to require and pay for replacement of windows that are coated in lead-based paint? Sounds like a nightmare, right? A statist’s wet dream. Government overreach!

    [economist Rick Navin]  and David Jacobs, a former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department housing research director, are proposing a public-private effort to replace windows in the nation’s aging housing stock.

    Their proposal was published online last week in the journal Environmental Research. They say the money spent “” $22 billion, less than the federal government spends on education in a year “” would yield $67 billion in benefits, including lower rates of special-education enrollment, ADHD, juvenile delinquency and crime “” and lower heating costs.

  • willard

    The small difference there is between grypo’s

    (1) I have no idea what your point is.

    or more generally kdk’s

    (2) I don’t know what you guys are going on about.

    and Chewbacca’s

    (3) You make no sense.

    Is that (1) and (2) state something about the proponent, while (3) states something about the opponent.

    We should bear in mind that the Chewbattack is more than the occurence of (3): it’s a rhetorical process whereby what the opponent says has been processed through a parsomatic.

    In any case, I do agree that asking questions about what the other says would sound more constructive. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that monitoring our understanding of conversations is an essential part of communication. I believe it is so essential that it’s better to have something less constructive going on than nothing at all.


    My point in saying this is to convey the idea that the concept of meta-communication rests on a bad model: communication is first and foremost about communication. For an example, see:

    The meta-trick is not unlike the OT defense at Bishop’s (and oftentimes at Steve’s, but I would not want to wake Tom C). When someone says something, the fact that he is saying something and the reason why he is saying so should never be excluded from what we consider topical.

    In other words, **Seinfeld** was right: it is possible for a show to be about nothing without being void of topicality.

    PS: Sorry if what I’m saying right now does not seem to make sense. It’s the best I can provide for now without spending my morning writing it. And I have this shoulder pain that tells me I should be elsewhere.

  • Tom Scharf

    Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs.

    Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.

    Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the signs?

  • BillC

    Joshua,A close relative of mine has worked with David Jacobs on this issue. Interestingly, I’m kind of with Mosher that I understood the point of the initial criticism, even if I (like mosher) sometimes disagree (probably more often in my case). I will say that the study you cite describes something that 1) to the best of my knowledge hasn’t happened yet and 2) has a pretty low benefit-to-cost ratio for an environmental intervention. (Yes I know net benefits are important too).

  • BillC

    #64 TomWelcome to Collide-a-scape. Long-haired freaky people need not apply. Witness the host.

  • grypo

    Ok, so it does appear I was correct in asking whether or not this is a “fact free ideological fight” about lead paint. Setting rules for a “small” sub-population that are “irresponsible”, and how this relates to government control seems to be at issue. All these points need to be quantified, like “small”, preferably with statistical, for both before and after lead paint bans in housing pre-1946 in “ghettos”, making sure to include the counter-factuals and Mosh’s “negative consequences that are very hard to measure or substantiate” . Like, was this always a small problem? The reason this is important, when fighting against government, is to make sure you are protecting something worth protecting, as the government sometimes isn’t always just a bunch bureaucratic pols flubbing up everything, sometimes it is actually an extension of what society wants, and other options for using the fulcrum of power have yet to be offered. Fighting for the right to paint with toxins is not helpful for the cause, IMO. I hafta side with the libs on this one.

  • willard


    I believe you were asking that question and got no answer because nobody in their right mind would ever consider that you do really exist:

  • grypo

    Ha, ha. Yes, radicals only get noticed when they camp out in parks!

  • Pete

    I read today that the worlds oldest person died recently. A 116 year old lady in the USA. She`s been replaced by another american woman who`s presently 115. How on earth are these women dodging so many bullets sent out by `Big Chem`?

  • harrywr2

    #62 Joshua,

    I wonder how many of my CAS friends would support “government
    intervention” to require and pay for replacement of windows that are
    coated in lead-based paint

    Not me.

    The potential hazard is a very complicated issue. Fixed pane and hinged windows don’t have the ‘wearing of the slides’ issue.

    So we are really looking at single and double hung windows. All the lead that may have been in the slides probably has worn off by now, some of it may have been mitigated as part or normal maintenance. I.E. Sanding down the slides and sashes to fix a ‘sticking window’ problem.

    If I look at the windows in my wifes rental houses…80% of the glass area is in fixed pane windows. One house has 26 windows. The 4 single and double hung windows have already been replaced because they required excessive maintenance. The other 22 windows..original from 1934 are still in outstanding condition. There is no ‘slide’ issue and they don’t have ‘peeling paint’ problems. 

    The cost to replace the remaining windows will be in excess of $1,000/piece which is more then the annual heating bill for just one window.

    In the other house there only 5 movable windows…4 have already been replaced due to ‘excessive maintenance’ requirements. The remaining moveable window isn’t accessible to a child under six

    The 9 fixed pane windows(7 of which are original from 1927) are still in outstanding condition and don’t exhibit peeling paint problems. I’ll probably replace the two ‘post 1950’ fixed pane windows if and when they need next need maintenance.They are on the ‘weather’ side of the house and need more maintenance then the others.

    If I look at the home of the 102 year old woman my wife looks after, all the windows double hung. The house needs a new roof,  foundation(it sits on a rock wall with no cement), central heat(imagine living in a house without central heat) and new bathroom. The 102 year old woman’s wish is that she die in that house. The house will be buried shortly after she is. Spending any money on that house is throwing good after bad. .it was originally built as ‘temporary’ WWI housing.  More then a few of the houses in that neighborhood end up being torn down after the elderly occupant passes on. The ‘gubmint’ spending good money to replace the windows in her house is foolish.

    I am the ‘maintenance man’ for 3 houses that have lead paint in them. Of the three houses, which have at least 50 windows combined, only one window even warrants a discussion as to whether is should be replaced in order to reduce the possibility of lead ingestion by a young child.

    The discussion with the university educated tenants and myself as to how to mitigate the potential hazard posed by that one window was that their normal cleaning habits would be more then adequate to mitigate any risk. If the window had been in the child’s bedroom, where the child would be left unattended the discussion would have been different. They had concerns, they did their research. I wasn’t opposed to a cost share on replacing that one window.

    This tenant was the first tenant to have a young child. There haven’t been any children living in that house since the 1970’s.My wife bought the house from an elderly couple.

    Responsible people can and do assess risk and mitigate where appropriate without government intervention.

    HUD already requires that a lead risk assessment be done for housing being offered to Section 8 recipients with children under the age of 6.

    Tightening that assessment standard(I would be ashamed to offer for rent a property that only met minimum HUD standards) seems like a cheaper way to address the problem to me rather then replace every window in the country that may have ever been painted with lead paint regardless of  potential risk.

  • steven mosher


    you make no sense to me.

    I think your distinctions are distinctions without a difference, and that you like to parse things when it is in your interest to parse them.

    You make no sense
    You make no sense to me.
    What is your point

    In all cases what I see is a failure to try to understand the other party, a failure to try to render their comments sensible. A lack of charity.

    Now, in the past, Joshua has held that one important aspect of critical thinking is understanding the other sides position. Basically being able to recapitulate their position fairly.

    I dont happen to agree with harry. I happen to support protecting people againt lead paint and other hazards. That disagreement with him does not preclude me from understanding his points.

  • Jeffn

    Mosher, I believe part of Harry’s point is that the govt fulfilled it’s obligation to “protect” us from lead when it announced:”hey, don’t eat the paint.”
    In a world where you’re allowed to assume people are sentient, that’s enough. Govt is a very powerful force, so when you try to make it do too many things, you diminish it’s credibility. Take for example schools, where in the name of the principle that drugs are bad, are suspending kids who bring in aspirin.
    Drugs also underscore the modern liberal state of mind- celebrating the prohibition on lead paint, trying desperately to repeal the prohibition on narcotics.

  • steven mosher

    “Ok, so it does appear I was correct in asking whether or not this is a “fact free ideological fight” about lead paint. Setting rules for a “small” sub-population that are “irresponsible”, and how this relates to government control seems to be at issue.”

    Well, it’s not a fact free discussion. harry responded with a fact, citing EPA. The only discussions that are “fact free” might be discussions of logic and math, but even there facts are at issue. I find it odd that you would try to draw a distinction between discussions about facts and ideology, as if ideology were somehow not a fact. “fact free” is a very hard state to achieve. More over, how could you have a discussion about regulations that didnt at some point intersect with ideology. Its not like the fact that lead is dangerous suddenly entails a “should”. One should always be aware of the is/ought distinction. Simply, it’s very hard to have a discussion that is ideology free or value free. lead is bad. ya. so what? nothing follows from that until you add a premise about what should be done. It’s forever entangled with ideology. Go figure.
    List all the facts you want. They dont entail a ‘should”. Now, I happen to believe that government does have an role to play and so i disagree with harry. But not because he is fact free. he is not fact free. He merely doesnt share my values. Recognizing that, is important. Playing dumb and pretending what he said was “fact free” is just a stupid pet trick.
    You can do better. On the other hand Ive read some of your comments on Sks secret forum, perhaps I am being too generous

  • steven mosher

    Yes jeffN I get that harry thinks the obligations end with the announcement. However,
    I can also see that not everyone will hear the prouncement or understand the pronouncement.

    That means I have to weigh.

    A) the damge done by lead Against
    B) the damage you think too much government causes.

    I can weigh A. I can measure A.
    B, as i said above, is much harder to quantify.
    I understand that people will believe that B is the greatest danger. I understand that it’s a deeply held belief, a “fact” for you. I’m less certain of it than you are.
    of course the ideologists on both sides have there strongly held opinions about B. Me? I’m not so convinced either way. I understand that an ideological rule simplifies ones decisions. so grypo and Joshua have their simplfying rule and you have yours. I note that.

  • harrywr2

    #60 Joshua,

    In regards to lead paint…like so many other substances…it’s a hazard in a specific set of circumstances to a specific population.

    We allow people to keep Drano in their homes, which will certainly be more damaging  to a child if ingested then if they ate all the lead paint off the walls of an entire house.

    Here is a study done in 1997 of lead levels in children by socioeconomic status. problem is most prevalent in populations below the poverty line.

    Here is an study on excessive soda consumption in NYC.

    The problem is most prevalent among people at less then 200% of the poverty line.

    Here is another study of excessive soda consumption in children grades 9-12.

    The significant associations with poor self-reported academic grades, inadequate sleep, sedentary behaviors, and cigarette smoking suggest research should examine why soda consumption is associated with these
    behaviors to inform the design of future nutrition interventions.

    A whole long list of ‘poor decision making’ associated with excessive ‘soda consumption’.

    I would describe a teenager that smokes, gets no exercise, doesn’t do their school work and drinks excessive amounts of soda as someone unwilling/unable to make responsible choices.

    Unfortunately, said teenager will soon be an adult with a socio-economic status below the poverty line and also be  a parent of a small child. As said teenager is incapable of making ‘healthy choices’ for themselves, said teenager is incapable of mitigating health risks within their childs living environment.

    I don’t know how to fix this problem Joshua. We tried orphanages, we tried foster care. Our latest plan seems to be to ban everything that these people with demonstrated poor decision making might abuse or fail to mitigate for.

    The last I checked prohibition went poorly and the war on drugs went poorly. It seems to me that banning things as a way to solve poor decision making hasn’t been particularly successful.

  • willard


    Joshua does have a point: Harry could have stated his claim more explicitly. But I read Harry enough as it is to have a fairly good idea where he stands on these kinds of issues, and unlike Joshua perhaps, not to expect him to state it without using a personal anecdote or some trivia datum, which I always enjoy. Harry makes me learn stuff, and most of the times makes an awful lot of sense.

    My distinction was not meant to make much difference. In fact, I do believe I said something like this in my previous comment. To make a difference out of this distinction, we would need to explain how “you make no sense” works in Chewbacca’s arsenal of bullying tactics. Since I made that distinction only because it related to my point regarding meta/non meta, I do not wish to investigate it furthermore hereunder.

  • Jeffn

    Mosher, fair points but I believe it’s simpler than that and actually don’t find it sinister- just stupid.
    The reality is that an easily avoidable “problem” was also a litigation gold mine. They’re still winning multi-million lead paint lawsuits. Google it. To do that, you have to paint a very scary picture, get a pliant press to run with it, and at the end of the day every do-gooder is calling their congressman screaming that “something must be done!” So something dumb and pointless is done and everybody pats themselves on the back that they “protected” somebody from lead.
    Here’s a fairly recent one from Baltimore. $2.5 million for lead “poisoning” in a house that was tested for lead levels (and found safe) both before and after the plaintiff lived in the house. That’ll encourage investment in potential rental property in that town!

  • Joshua

    Harry –

    Joshua, My point was that lead paint, absent an ingestion pathway and
    absent a malnourished child does not present a “˜significant health

    Well, although it apparently exposes me as being a dunderhead – I still don’t see a point there. I see a statement of fact, and even more, a statement of a fairly trivial fact. So what you state as your point, and what others have stated as your point, seems to me to be not much of a point.  It seems to me your point as stated would be akin to saying that absent a propulsion mechanism and human targets, bullets do not present a significant health threat. Now while that might be true, it seems to me that it is trivially so, at least  w/r/t discussion of various arguments about policy related to guns.

    I’ll trade what I consider a non-trivial fact for what I consider to be your fairly trivial fact: The reality is that “ingestion pathways” and malnourished children exist in our society – and that (what I would consider to be) large numbers of children suffer significantly negative health and cognitive outcomes as a result of lead poisoning (I assume that you read the article I linked). A related fact is that exposure to harmful amounts of lead lead those numbers of children has a significantly negative impact on our society.

    Now in the best of all possible worlds, ingestion pathways and malnourished children would not exist. But I live in Philly, not Shangri-La. So, then, to me the meaningful question is whether or not regulation of lead paint produces better outcomes than we’d have otherwise. I don’t consider that question to be trivial – but it seems the first order of this discussion is to determine whether you are saying that we would have better outcomes absent such regulation. It does seem that you are suggesting that, but I have yet to see you say it directly, and when you, yourself, stated what your “point” was, you stated a fact (IMO not a “point.”) and one I consider to be trivially true. Does the basis of your point (assuming you have an arguable point) rest on some kind of “moral hazard” argument?

    As for your discussion about the benefits of a government program to replace windows covered in lead paint….

    I worked for about a decade as a carpenter, some of that time mostly doing renovations, and a good portion of that time actually  replacing and/or refurbishing windows in homes 50+ years old, not a few of them in poor neighborhoods. In my experience each of the specifics of your anecdotal description put your experiences outside the norm. For example, the vast majority of windows I’ve ever worked on in older homes were double hung windows (certainly not “fixed pane” windows). I don’t know what more recent techniques are commonly used now, but with that type of window some 25 years ago, at a minimal expense I would remove the old sashes and sash bead, pull out the pulley system for the sash weights, throw in some insulation into  the now empty channels, and install new sashes with spring loaded vinyl jamb liners some caulk and some new sash bead. Problem solved for hardly any money and there would be resultant savings in reducing heat loss. 

    I would say that even with a certain % of potential “unnecessary” replacements as in cases such as yours – with consideration of societal costs of hundreds of thousands of children exposed to dangerous levels of lead – a widespread government program as discussed in the article I linked, using inexpensive and uncomplicated techniques, would prove quite cost effective and something I’d be happy to support with my tax dollars given that the net return would likely be positive economically, to to even consider the moral dimensions. And of course, I have no reason to assume that the kind of programing they were discussing in the article would entail replacing fixed windows, casement windows, jealousy windows, windows that are in good shape, etc. (Although BillC’s point about “opportunity” cost of potentially greater return from the resources used on other initiatives would have to be considered.)

    The description of your personal situation is interesting, but it doesn’t seem to me to be very useful for examining the issues on a much broader scale with consideration of widespread conditions that don’t resemble your situation very much at all.

  • Tom Scharf

    Some of us believe it is not the government’s job to protect us from our own stupidity.  Others believe a nanny state government will makes us all safe and sound.  There is such a thing as the freedom to be stupid.  When I grew up, accidents happened, and they were tragic.  Now accidents happen, and someone must be held liable, and if no laws were broken, then it was the governments fault for letting it happen, and new laws must be made to prevent all accidents from happening.  The lawyers love this mentality.

  • Matt B

    Hey KK just heard this for the first time in years, seems applicable……..were The Police ahead of their time or what?

  • BBD

    Keith Kloor:

    Meanwhile, can somebody tell me what to do about my couch?

    Well you can’t burn it (oh how we laughed). So landfill it is. A gift to the water table… Presumably this is  an example of the oft-cited ‘blowback’?


  • kdk33

    Some of us believe it is not the government’s job to protect us from our own stupidity.  

    And some others believe it is governments job to impose their special stupidity on the rest of us.

  • kdk33

    So, then, to me the meaningful question is whether or not regulation of lead paint produces better outcomes than we’d have otherwise.

    Fascinating.  And how broadly does this principle apply (see my #82).  Bacon cheeseburgers, for example.

  • Joshua

     Others believe a nanny state government will makes us all safe and sound.

    And some of us just make stuff up, and claim it’s what others believe. Fascinating. Do you think that anyone in this thread said anything remotely like that?

  • Joshua

    And how broadly does this principle apply (see my #82).  Bacon cheeseburgers, for example.

    Right. Such tyranny. First they came for my lead paint. Then they came for my leaded gasoline. Then they came for might light bulbs. Next they’ll come for my bacon cheeseburgers.

    I can hear the cries at the next Tea Party rally:


  • Jeff N

    @79Those vinyl jamb liners are bad for you<b>They are widely used in polyvinylchloride (known as PVC or vinyl) building materials such as flooring, wall covering, upholstery, and shower curtains. They are not bound to the plastic and are easily released to the indoor environment. Phthalates are a suspected endocrine disrupting chemical and have been linked to an increasing number of reproductive health impacts at low dose exposures, and exposure to building materials containing phthalates has been correlated with asthma and related allergy impacts.</b>

  • Joshua

    I grew up, accidents happened, and they were tragic.

    Just curious. Have you ever spent much time in countries were there was little accountability for endangering the public, little government infrastructure for protecting the safety of the public? I WANT MY ACCOUNTABILITY-FREE TOXINS BACK!!!!!!

  • Joshua

    @87 – Actually, now that I think about it, the ones I used were made out of aluminum. I was mistakenly thinking of vinyl replacement windows -something else entirely. Are you saying that the vinyl used in window manufacturing is hazardous? Do you have a link?

  • Ben

    But that is the point Joshua why should the government have any right to ban anything that it deems dangerous that people are still willing or even wanting to use?Smoking,baby car seats and lead paint are easy to justify as they can harm other people. Driving with out a seatbelt or drinking a pop are personal threats to oneself only.  They only become public issues if you have public health care. I am sure you can think of your own examples and which category they fall into. I am fine with one and strongly against the other not because I think driving with out a seatbelt is smart but because I don’t give a crap what people do and that is a personal preference so be it if they go out the windshield. At the same time I am fine with a car/life insurance company not paying if the victim is was injured/killed while not wearing a seat belt they are private companies and have the right to have a policy that clearly states the consequences.That is one more reason the collectivist mentality is towards single payer because it allows them justification to adjust so many parts of peoples lives in the direction they prefer. How long before cholesterol intake is regulated? Or meatless Mondays become mandated for the good of the children once the government is paying for everyone’s healthcare. Or you need to pay more taxes because you like fried chicken or god forbid real sugar and trans fats.

  • Ben

    My post is in reference to josh 86 and I need to figure out how to make paragraph breaks on this blog bleh. I tried the horizontal rule button and that obviously did nothing.

  • Joshua

    @87 – Just read that one potential hazard from vinyl products is that they may release lead. That would be sadly ironic windows coated in lead paint were replaced with windows coated in a product that released lead.

  • Jeff N

    JoshuaPer your request

     I admit this is an
    article attacking Mr. Moore but it contains a small summary of concerns about
    vinyl products and the manufacturing process involved. 


  • Joshua

    Ben –

    As you speak to, this is an issue at (at least) three levels, IMO.

    (1) Economics. We live in a country where public health impacts everyone economically. Ultimately, people getting injured in auto accidents affects us all economically – because we don’t turn anyone away from medical care if they can’t afford to pay for the care, because someone flying through a windshield increases expenses to the system at a number of levels. Ultimately, children suffering cognitively from lead exposure affects us all economically, through less productive citizens, more people winding up in jail, higher unemployment, etc. – not to mention the “opportunity cost” from having a more productive/better educated citizenry. I suppose it is possible to dream up a country where increased injuries and more children with developmental problems has no economic impact on those people not directly affected by these problems – but we don’t live in such a country and we don’t live in such a country because of majority sentiment. This isn’t something that happens because autocratic rulers impose this system. The system we have is a reflection of the public’s will.

    (2) Values. I’m not going to pass judgement on your values. I don’t know you, and I respect that assessing values is very complicated. That said, however, even if it didn’t have a direct economic impact on me, I do think that something like offering healthcare to those who can’t afford it reflects values that I am in agreement with. I have spent time in countries were such values were not as prevalent, and prefer this culture. 

    (3) Cross-over. Now people make all kinds of assumptions about cause-and-effect without sufficient evidence all the time. So while I am not going to assert a definitive cause-and-effect, I do think that it is probably not coincidence that we can see a correlation between those countries that have experienced the greatest economic growth and countries that reflect the kinds of values I just spoke about. Maybe those phenomena just co-exist without their being a causal relationship. And it is an interesting question as to the direction of causality. But regardless, what I can tell from the correlation of those phenomena is that despite claims I often see otherwise, the types of values of the sort we are discussing clearly do not prevent superior economic growth. That isn’t to say that they still might reduce potential economic growth that might be achieved without those values. Unless we control all the variables we can’t say for sure. But just as we need to be careful about making facile conclusions about causality and therefore over-extend policies such as regulating harmful products, so we must be careful about making facile conclusions that ignore the potential causality related to the correlation I spoke of.

  • Joshua

    Ben – once you’ve typed your comments, use the html toggle — the <> “view source code” button. Look for </p> codes and insert two hard returns (press enter key twice) after the </p>’s to create paragraphs.

  • Ben


    Thanks for the Paragraph break info.

    1. We mandate Auto insurance already and it is justified to mitigate loss of others lives and property and should cover emergency medical care. In addition I accept the burden placed on all of us through higher premiums to cover hospitals not turning away any emergency cases. As you point out this is already policy and medical care is already priced to cover the portion that goes unpaid for otherwise insurance companies and private hospitals would go bankrupt. Second each “impaired” child actually creates ~3 jobs as far as employment and economics I see it as a wash but again I am fine with regulation to protect those who can not protect themselves i.e. car seat mandates 

    2. Offering health care again is great using that offer of health care as justification to change how people live their lives or what products are available to them is not. The economic impact of the uninsured is not new and is not the issue here I would prefer market driven cost based discounts for healthy choices over a government mandated banning of unhealthy ones.

    3. I enjoy our values based society and fought in the army to protect it, but our  values include is individual responsibility in and liberty. As those decline  we find ourselves in an entire other web of causality that pulls us further from the values that got us to were we are.

    Give me back my light bulbs my trans fats my large pop and stay out of my kitchen my bedroom and my car. Feel free to protect me  from others but not me from myself. 

  • Jeff N

    Interesting not only do Vinyl windows require
    a Prop 65 warning but wood as well and aluminum is being evaluated for

    Proposition 65 notice for wood products is as follows: WARNING: Drilling,
    sawing, sanding or machining wood products generates wood dust, a substance
    known to the State of California to cause cancer. Use a respirator or other
    safeguards to avoid inhaling wood dust. 
    : Aluminum was suggested because of its potential to cause neurotoxicity.Aluminum bioavailability from drinking water depends on drinking water composition;and bioavailability from food depends on trace element content. Populations withcompromised kidney function are known to bioaccumulate aluminum. This includeskidney failure and dialysis patients as well as premature infants. Staff suggested that
    biomonitoring data would help us understand the range of aluminum exposures acrossthese conditions and the extent to which aluminum neurotoxicity may be a public healthissue.

  • Ben

    BY the way I am fine with putting warning labels on every damn thing as long as it absolves the manufacturer of liability if used improperly and the installer if installed properly and then modified by the un-certified.

  • Tom Scharf

    #85 Joshua, Funny that you thought that comment was directed at you.  Hmmmm……

  • Joshua

    So – Jeffn – now it’s time to ask if you have a point, or are just presenting  a loose assemblage if facts? Is there a coherent thesis?

    Are you suggesting that using aluminum window jambs poses a similar level of environmental hazard as dust from lead based paint? Are you suggesting that levels of exposure to sawdust poses anywhere near a similar level of hazard (to the general population of American children) as the levels of exposure to dust from lead-based paint? Are you suggesting that cognitive deficits in hundreds of thousands of children as a result of exposure to dust from lead-based paint is an insignificant public health outcome?

  • Joshua

    #99 – Tom S.  I asked whether or not you thought that anyone in this thread said anything similar to your straw man. The reason being – I wanted to know if it was simply you being delusional, or if perhaps it was just a random rant that had nothing whatsoever to do with anything said in this thread.

  • Tom Scharf

    The motorcycle helmet law in Florida was an interesting case of liberty vs. nanny state governance.  Humorously what they found is that the economic argument was invalid.  It turned out that wearing a helmet actually increased healthcare costs….because….people without helmets in many cases tended to die instead of requiring major medical procedures.  The medical costs of death are economical.   

  • Tom Scharf

    Joshua = Nanny state.

  • Joshua
  • kdk33

    It turned out that wearing a helmet actually increased healthcare costs”¦.because”¦.people without helmets in many cases tended to die instead of requiring major medical procedures.  The medical costs of death are economical.   

    Probably works for smokers too.

  • Joshua

    Probably works for smokers too.

    This is beautiful. A “skeptic” – who apparently thinks that the public cost “benefit” of smokers dying comes anywhere near equaling the cost to society of illnesses associated with smoking.

    It takes a special kind of reasoning to be a “skeptic.”

  • willard

    What if that helmetless free rider was a smoking, cheeseburger lover? So much confounding variables.

  • Ben

    Joshua if you decrease fatality by XX% with out changing the number of accidents obviously health care costs will go up. Those in accidents but not killed obviously will at least need checked out.

  • Joshua

    As those decline  we find ourselves in an entire other web of causality
    that pulls us further from the values that got us to were we are.

    I don’t have any such sense about the world I inhabit. It is easy to say that there has been a decline in individual responsibility and  freedom through some kind of assemblage of feelings and anecdotes, but I have yet to see anyone make a serious, comprehensive, and validated case.

    For example, I look at the changes over my lifetime w/r/t civil rights, environmental protection, equality for women, discrimination based on sexual identity or preferences, and many other issues, in not only this country but across the globe, and I see reasons to consider that if anything, the trend is positive. (I’m not sure, but I think it is more likely to be positive than negative).  Was there more or less individual responsibility and freedom when blacks couldn’t drink at the same water fountains as whites, when companies could manufacture products with toxic ingredients without an expectation of accountability, when there were fewer regulations protecting the environment? And on top of that, just as a philosophical question – you have a very high bar to cross when you are arguing that regulations that are the direct outgrowth of a representative form of government equal less individual freedom and liberty.

    My guess is that throughout human civilization, people decried a trend towards loss of liberty and individual responsibility. You know, “Kids today.”

  • Joshua

    What if that helmetless free rider was a smoking, cheeseburger lover? So much confounding variables.


    Joshua if you decrease fatality by XX% with out changing the number of accidents obviously health care costs will go up.

    But it doesn’t work that way in the real world – which is why making conclusions based on such outcomes is facile.

    In the real world, along with more deaths (and perhaps less medical expenses for those who died rather than were just injured), you will also have more serious injuries. You don’t get the one w/o the other. There are other problems with Tom S’s facile conclusions as well: consider that those who die don’t just die immediately at the scene. Many will die after expensive treatment for their illnesses – treatment that might have been mitigated or even prevented had they been wearing helmets. Also, you’d have to consider the economic impact to society in the form of lost productivity, lost family support, death benefits, etc. Please look at the studies I linked. It isn’t as if these are questions that haven’t been studied.

    If you have some evidence that “they” say something contrary, and that “they” actually made a serious attempt to study the issue, please provide a link.

  • Tom Scharf

    Joshua, this isn’t anything new.  it’s a debate on the role of government.  Liberal vs. Libertarian. If people make an individual choice to increase their personal risk that does not affect others, should they be allowed to do so?  People’s answers depend on their own personal value systems.  Being convinced you are “right” is clueless. You can come up with a convoluted argument that any risk affects society at large (see NYC soda pop).  

    Less people would die in cars too if they wore helmets.  Riding in the back seat is much safer, front passenger seats should be outlawed?  Two lane roads should be outlawed?  There is no black and white here.

    I agree that I don’t want to pay the bills of people’s bad life choices, but that is as far as I will go.  And the evidence that such a societal penalty is being paid needs to be *** clear and convincing ***.  Soda pop doesn’t pass this test.  I also agree that it is the role of the government to make sure people are aware of the risks, investigate the risks, and propose and implement changes to reduce the risks where it makes sense.  Where it makes sense is of course where all the debate is.  I’ve told my kids many times you are 7x more likely to die on a motorcycle than in a car.  Shouldn’t we simply be outlawing motorcycles?

    We didn’t need a government diktat to come up with diet coke. 

  • Ben

    You do realize any policy that mandates non discrimination in private business is actually a curtailment of liberty? Discrimination is morally reprehensible but it is also something private enterprise and private individuals are allowed to do. If I don’t want to sell my goods to people who have wind farms I am allowed to turn away that business.

    You seem to be mixing separate issues Black drinking at separate water fountains was government mandated segregation which is wrong.  That has nothing to do with individual responsibility and was a case where the government was depriving liberty. You can still have a private pool and only allow albino’s into it if you like that is fine. Just like I am not going to be president of the NAACP.

    Environmental issues come into play because they cause harm to others again I am fine with that I think we are going to far today but the legislation of the 60’s and 70’s was essential. None of the things you mentioned in your post are proper examples of what we are doing today. I am not sure how you can say people are more individually responsible for their own well being now then when say there was no such thing as food stamps or unemployment and you needed to make it work.

    For the record its very easy to show how a representative form of government can pass regulation that removes responsibility and liberty. If the majority decides that the minority are now slaves and are responsible for meeting every need and desire of the majority that is still representative government but is not liberty or individual responsibility.

  • Matt B

    @ 106 Joshua – not so fast! There are studies that show it is cheaper  for society to have people smoking (and obese for that matter)….the simple fact is, dying young & abruptly saves society a ton of money, plus there’s all that sweet sin tax money……now is this an unassailable “fact”? No. Can you find studies that claim the opposite? Yes. Is to proper to be skeptical of the claim that smoking costs society money? Yes.

  • Ben

    Outlaw whitewater rafting and skate boarding they have no benefit to society but incur significant medical costs as well.  Once you start where do you stop? Each person and philosophical view will have its own cut off of when enough is enough. Mine happens to be much less permissive of government intervention then yours.

  • Ben

    I think matt B has a good point EVERYONE dies eventually and Most non traumatic deaths have significant costs to them. My grandfather just died at 89 after an incredible long battle with Parkinsons disease he certainly cost alot more then somebody a fat man with a heart attack at 45.  Life is Fatal I guess to truly say health costs of any specific claim are more or less you would need to subtract the life expectancy medical costs from the actual. Each cause will have its own differential. Also remember that Life insurance money gets spent jobs get filled and productivity does not go down with each individual loss. I find would love to see a study showing each premature death has a negative economic impact at large.

  • Tom Scharf

    From what I can tell from Joshua’s 80,000 word diatribe on the majority’s right to impose rules whether they make sense or not on the recent GMO thread (and he accuses me of being off topic…ha ha), he fully supports the majority’s right to choose to go helmet-less.  Unless of course this is “different” for some reason.

  • Joshua

    (113) Matt B –

    Even assuming the argument of lower lifetime health costs for smokers because they die younger (ignoring for now that we could find analysis that reaches a different conclusion) when you start to calculate lifetime costs as opposed to, say, annual costs, you introduce a whole host of variables (not limited to externalities) not even touched upon in the article you linked: (loss of productivity, increased comorbidity healthcare costs that go along with those clearly directly attributable smoking – such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease, strokes, bladder cancer, etc., to  loss of years of tax revenue, economic impact to society from deaths at a younger age, etc.) 

    Extending the logic of that article, we could realize lower lifetime health costs not only from smokers dying younger, but from any causes of death at an earlier age. We could argue that it supports an argument of the economic benefits of infanticide. But for me, the point is not to extend these arguments to the point of absurd slippery slope straw men (as we see throughout this thread such as in the I WANT MY BACON CHEESBURGERS!  line of argumentation). Let’s keep the argument grounded. Let’s not just throw stuff at the wall. Let’s not hand-wring with unqualified assertions about loss of liberty. State the argument.

    Is your thesis that we would be better off as a society if there were less emphasis placed on reducing smoking? Are you saying that we’d be better off w/o helmet laws? Are you saying that we would be better off w/o regulations on lead-based paint? What is the freakin’ thesis? 

    Try staying away from slipper slopes. They are a public health hazard.

  • Joshua

    he fully supports the majority’s right to choose to go helmet-less.  

    Absolutely. No matter what careful studies say about the economic or other implications, I support our democratic system. I don’t think it is wise or consistent to pick and choose support for democratic processes merely on the basis of how I feel about the outcomes. If the public will is lacking to create helmet laws, they won’t be created. I’m absolutely fine with that. Same with laws about GMOs. Same with laws about 64 oz sodas. I don’t live in a binary world. Things I don’t like come along with things I do like. I’m not expecting to find Shangri-La, where public benefits exist without payment through systems like taxation. I’m not expecting to create some system of government that has never existed in the history of the planet. I don’t have a compulsive need to be a victim – even though I experience on a daily basis a standard of living that far exceeds the vast majority of people on the planet and virtually everyone who has ever lived.

  • kdk33

    So, which upper middle class accoutrement kills more kids:  Guns or Swimming Pools.  Anybody wanna guess if Bill Costas has a pool.

  • kdk33

    we could realize lower lifetime health costs not only from smokers dying younger, but from any causes of death at an earlier age.

    Yes, Joshua, you are correct.  The dramatic increase in societal resources leads directly to our long lives.  Long lives cost money.  Wealth makes long lives possible. 

    If people voluntarily wish to reduce their costs, I’m fine with that.  It leaves more wealth to extend my life.

    Now you start to see the immorality of destroying wealth to fight stuff like CAGW.

  • Joshua

    Yes – another liberty-loving libertarian, decrying Costas speaking freely about his opinion on gun control. I mean it’s not like kdk’s remote has a mute button. Poor dude. Such a victim – forced to listen to Costas’ point of view. OH. THE HUMANITY!

  • kdk33

    Joshua, your reading skills are as poor as your politics.  I don’t mind listening to Costas.  I find hypocrites amusing.

  • Ben

    Costas is allowed to be wrong it does not change the fact that in no way could gun control have prevented the murder and suicide that happened.  Even if guns did not exist he still could have killed her and himself. Hell he could have dragged her to the stadium picked her up and jumped off the upper deck. Physical prowess still counts for something I guess.  The problem comes in that stupid people will believe Costas and never think about how he is wrong.

  • Tom Scharf

    There’s no reason to expect Costas to be an expert in gun control, he is a football commentator.  He is exploiting his prevalence in one skill to shove his personal views on a totally different subject down the throats of a captive audience who aren’t expecting it, which is wrong.  A misdemeanor in the grand scheme though.

  • Matt B

    @ 117 Joshua,

    Is your thesis that we would be better off as a society if there were less emphasis placed on reducing smoking? No, my thesis is that it is not clear that smoking is a cost to society. There is data to support the idea that smokers (paying sin taxes & with a shorter lifespan) actually cost less as a group to maintain than other groups with healthier lifestyles.

  • Joshua

    No, my thesis is that it is not clear that smoking is a cost to society.

    A thesis must be arguable. I guess that your thesis does, barely, cross that bar. Yes, some people might argue about whether smoking is a cost to society. But a thesis can run the spectrum from interesting or thought  provoking to banal. I’d say that your thesis, as it is, in way towards the banal end of the spectrum.

    You could make it more interesting, however. Let’s say that your thesis is that since (you think) it is not clear that smoking is a cost to society, XYZ policies are ill-advised. Or better still, because (you think) that it is not clear that smoking is a cost to society, you think that we are better off because people suffer and die young as a result of the health outcomes from smoking.

    Regardless – I’d say that again you are ignoring the implications of your questioning the cost of smoking to society. You are ducking behind the question about lifetime costs as the result of people dying younger without fuller considering other aspects of people dying younger. The costs on something like an annual basis are clear and unambitious. The costs on that type of time scale undoubtedly affect us all in a very real. way. Speculation about counterfactuals (whether if fewer people died from smoking, there might be some economic benefits) seems rather pointless to me. What might the implications of such speculation be? Would it imply, for example, that we encourage kids to start smoking as soon as  they can hold a cigarette?

  • BobN

    Wow, really don’t understand how this got onto lead paint for so long or how some seem to want to down play the hazards that it presents isn’t so bad.  Having worked in the environmental field for over 25 years, I would say that most EPA toxicology reports and risk assessments overstate the actual risks of the studied chemicals by a long shot.  I also think Prop 65 and the way it is implemented is a total joke, only designed to enrich class action attorneys and not inform the public of real risks.  However, lead does have true and significant health effects and at least some elements of  its toxicity have been recognized for over two hundred years.  Further, while it did have a much greater impact on poorly nourished children in run-down residences, it did also affect many well-nourished kids as well.  So lead/lead paint, with its known hazards, is in no way comparable to the vanishingly small concentrations of fire-retardants, with no known human health effects, which may be being emitted from Keith’s couch. 
    That being said, I do think the media, which seems to thrive on the scare stories, really needs to be more responsible in reporting on these things and certainly need to recognize that any report coming out of groups such as PIRG, Greenpeace, and the like are going to exaggerate the risks of chemicals.
    Also, Keith, your couch is neither leeching nor leaching (movement of water-soluble compounds via water) unless you hosed it down recently.  Leaking or emitting would be better words to use.  

  • Jeff N

     Joshua I apologize
    for the delay.


    One times both aluminum and vinyl products were promoted partially
    and accepted as environmentally friendly.

    You mentioned the relevant dangers of Wood, Vinyl etc to
    lead which is somewhat Harry’s point.

    We seem to be rushing around from one product to another
    being scared out of using it   only to
    find out that there are dangerous in its replacement.   

    Overall my concern  or
    point is similar to comment #9 which is  the
    need  of Academia to have some high
    impact finding that the media reports without really looking at the relevant
    danger or statistical weakness in the paper.

    The story regarding kid’s bouncers/moonwalks would be an
    example of media hype while ignoring the obvious.

    Activist groups then selectively use the study to promote
    action.  Look how one group misrepresents the study on phthalates.

    A Danish-Swedish team recently studied over
    10,000 children and found that phthalates may be a major factor behind the
    dramatic increase in childhood asthma and allergy. They found that asthmatic
    children lived in homes with the highest concentrations of phthalates in the
    house dust (

    investigation is a case”“control study nested within a cohort of 10,852
    children. From the cohort, we selected 198 cases with persistent allergic
    symptoms and 202 controls without allergic symptoms. (The Association between
    Asthma and Allergic Symptoms in Children and Phthalates in House Dust: A Nested
    Case”“Control Study)

    In conclusion, I
    suspect that scientist will someday discover that living cause death, the media
    will urgently report it and some group will seek to have it banned.



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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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