Responsible science

June 28, 1996

Is it really part of a scientist's responsibility to avoid advocating "radical measures" until cause and effect are firmly established ("A Shot in the dark", THES, June 14)? Should a responsible scientist also sit back while politicians make misleading proclamations that everything from contaminated beef to contaminated baby milk is "safe"?

True, the link between hormone disrupting chemicals and observed falls in human sperm counts, rises in reproductive cancers and increases in genital abnormalities has not been proven. However, small doses of these chemicals have caused similar effects in rats and mice. "Responsible science" too often means giving the benefit of the doubt to short-term industrial interests. But failure to take preventative action can risk serious damage to both human health and industry, as the beef crisis shows.

In continuing to produce hormone-disrupting chemicals, the chemical industry is conducting a worldwide, uncontrolled experiment on the reproductive development of humans and of wildlife. The vast majority of phthalates, the hormone-disrupting chemicals found in baby milk, are used as softeners in PVC plastic. We can act now to phase out PVC or we can bottle up our fears and keep on feeding it to our children. They might just be lucky.

Helen Wallace Senior scientist, Greenpeace UK

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