EWG’s Golden Shower

Pop quiz: Which is least toxic, arsenic, cyanide or vitamin D?
(answer at the end of this post)

 

EWG’s Golden Shower Gambit

Once again, the non-governmental organization, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has yet to find a chemical to not be concerned about to raise cash environmental awareness, wants to be showered in gold to protect you from Erin Brockovich’s favorite chemical, chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium).

The September 20, 2016 story, “Erin Brockovich’ Carcinogen in Tap Water of More than 200 Million Americans,” lays out their case for shaking you down for cash raising your concern. It was written by David Andrews, EWG’s Senior Scientist, and Bill Walker, its Managing Editor.

EWG says:

“A new EWG analysis of federal data from nationwide drinking water tests shows that the compound [chromium-6] contaminates water supplies for more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states. Yet federal regulations are stalled by a chemical industry challenge that could mean no national regulation of a chemical state scientists in California and elsewhere say causes cancer when ingested at even extraordinarily low levels.

“The standoff is the latest round in a tug-of-war between scientists and advocates who want regulations based strictly on the chemical’s health hazards and industry, political and economic interests who want more relaxed rules based on the cost and feasibility of cleanup.”

Let’s compare a common insecticide of similar toxicity and carcinogenicity to chromium-6: caffeine.

Caffeine’s LOAEL (lowest observed adverse effect level) of 2.5 mg/kg-day is quite close to that of chromium-6. Toxicologists then calculate a Reference Dose from the LOAEL. Dr. Tamara L. Sorell writes in “Approaches to the Development of Human Health Toxicity Values for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients in the Environment, “The final RfD [reference dose for caffeine] would be 0.0025 mg/kg-day, a very small dose in the same range as RfDs for known toxicants such as hexavalent chromium [chromium-6] and potassium cyanide.”

An RfD (reference dose) is the amount of something you can ingest daily for your lifetime and expect no harm. It can verge on the ridiculous. In fact, Dr. Sorell writes, “the RfD process is still very conservative and results in doses that may be many times below actual levels of concern. Conservatism is useful in screening and for ensuring protectiveness, but can present a challenge in risk management. In some cases, conservatively derived concentrations may be overprotective, resulting concentrations that are difficult or expensive to detect analytically, cannot be environmentally achieved, are based on intakes well below typical or voluntary exposures, or are otherwise unreasonably low.” (emphasis is mine)

The RfD for caffeine is 0.0025 mg/kg-day. For a 70-kiligram (154 pound) adult, this dose is the quantity of caffeine in 0.14 milliliters (mL) of cola (based on 35 mg of caffeine per 12 fl oz cola). So based on RfD, one drop of Coca-Cola would be thirty-six times your safe level for ingestion of caffeine.

One drop of coffee is 270 times above the safe level for caffeine consumption. One 16-ounce cup of coffee contains approximately 2700 times the safe consumption level of caffeine based on the RfD.

This sort of campaign has little to do with your physical heath, and much to do with EWG’s financial health. As Tom Knudson wrote in the Sacramento Bee in 2001, “Crisis, real or not, is a commodity. And slogans and sound bites masquerade as scientific fact.”

If you are worried about the carcinogenicity of chromium-6, you should also worry about your intake of caffeine for much the same reasons.

By the way, chromium-6 will turn water yellow (or golden) at levels of concern.

So to be sure you don’t drink an unsafe level of 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine (caffeine), put one drop of coffee into 1/3 gallon of water–or 1 gallon of water, just to be on the safe side.

EWG classifies any drinking water above the California standard to be “contaminated”

California’s standard for chromium-6 is 10 parts per billion.

To dilute a drop of coffee to yield a ten ppb level of caffeine, you would have to put a drop into the equivalent amount of water to fill two Olympic swimming pools.

So to be sure you don’t drink an unsafe level of 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine (caffeine), put one drop of coffee into 13.2 million gallons of water, just to be on the safe side.

EWG Story After Fact Checking

EWG’s managing editor apparently missed some key points involving toxicology during the fact checking of those statements. So let’s help him out.

That should read:

A new Another EWG analysis con job using of federal data from nationwide drinking water tests shows that the compound chromium-6–a naturally occurring chemical found in well water–is found, unsurprisingly, in the contaminates water supplies for more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states. Yet, despite numerous research studies to the contrary, federal regulations are stalled by a chemical industry challenge that could mean no national regulation EWG wants you to waste money on a of a chemical that activists state scientists in California and elsewhere say causes cancer when ingested at even extraordinarily low levels.”

The standoff This shakedown for money by EWG, is the latest round in a tug-of-war between scientists and advocates who want regulations based strictly on chemaphobia and activist science the chemical’s health hazards and scientists and researchers who understand the science of toxicology industry, political and economic interests want more relaxed rules based on the cost and feasibility of cleanup.”

EWG’s chromium-6 campaign is masquerading as scientific fact.

EWG leans on heavily on a 2011 California report on chromium-6. It is quite detailed with lots of references. It is the type of reprot that Frank Schnell told me, is “designed to make your head hurt, so that you won’t hear that soft little voice of common sense in the back of your head whispering ‘this is all bullshit, isn’t it?.’..Stupid nonsense dressed up to look like complicated science is still just stupid nonsense.”

While they may be sincere, their plan is to scare you to act and shower them with gold. Their rhetoric is a virtual golden shower on you, tainted with half-truths, innuendo, and fabrication.

One drop of coffee is 270 times above the safe level for caffeine consumption. One 16-ounce cup of coffee contains approximately 2700 times the safe consumption level of caffeine based on the RfD.

Answer to the pop quiz: Which is least toxic, arsenic, cyanide or vitamin D?
With an LD50 of 15 mg/kg, arsenic is the least toxic.
Both cyanide and vitamin D have LD50s of 10 mg/kg.

References

National Science Teachers Association. 2016. “ASSESSING TOXIC RISK: STUDENT EDITION.” In . Accessed September 30. http://ei.cornell.edu/teacher/pdf/ATR/ATR_Chapter1_X.pdf.

Sorell, Tamara L. 2016. “Approaches to the Development of Human Health Toxicity Values for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients in the Environment.” The AAPS Journal 18 (1). Springer: 92–101. doi:10.1208/s12248-015-9818-5.

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