Hormesis: How a scientist's disputed views about pollution may change EPA
The amusing part below is why Leftist scientists (such as Thomas Burke, professor and director of the Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health) oppose the recognition of hormesis.
They say you can allow for it in clinical settings but in everyday setting you must not use it because you cannot control the dosage.
The slipperiness there is that the safe use of hormesis is NOT limited to clinical settings. There are already many instances where hormetic effects emerged safely in everyday settings. The dosage range for hormetic effects is in fact quite large so it could be safely allowed for in many regulatory settings
Hormesis has in fact emerged in what would conventionally be regarded as a "medium" exposure to ionizing radiation. But radioactivity is a great bugaboo to the Left so they desperately need to deny that
Ed Calabrese's theory that low doses of toxic chemicals are good for people could soon become U.S. policy.
In early 2018, a deputy assistant administrator in the EPA, Clint Woods, reached out to a Massachusetts toxicologist best known for pushing a public health standard suggesting that low levels of toxic chemicals and radiation are good for people.
"I wanted to check to see if you might have some time in the next couple of days for a quick call to discuss a couple items," Woods wrote to Ed Calabrese.
Less than two weeks later, Calabrese's suggestions on how the Environmental Protection Agency should assess toxic chemicals and radiation were introduced, nearly word for word, in the U.S. government's official journal, the Federal Register.
"This is a major big time victory," Calabrese wrote in an email to Steve Milloy, a former coal and tobacco lobbyist who runs a website, junkscience.com, that seeks to discredit mainstream climate science.
"Yes. It is YUGE!" wrote Milloy, in response.
It was a glorious moment for Calabrese, who had been snubbed for decades by mainstream public health scientists because of his controversial research and theories.
It also signified the major shift the EPA has taken under the Trump administration.More than any before it, this White House has actively sought out advice from industry lobbyists and the scientists they commission in setting pollution rules.
Denouncing the Obama-era EPA as an agency beholden to environmental extremists, the administration has not only dismissed mainstream science but embraced widely discredited alternatives that critics say are not consistent with the agency's focus on improving public and environmental health.
Calabrese's role illustrates a different side of this shift: the potential removal of long-standing public health practices and the incorporation of industry-backed and disputed science into federal environmental policy.
Calabrese spent decades advancing his ideas, facing skepticism and criticism from peers in the toxicology community while winning funding from companies whose bottom lines conformed to his views.
He says most of the pushback he receives comes from left-of-center toxicologists who see him as "the devil incarnate" for accepting industry funding and challenging their ideology. He maintains his science is solid and will be vindicated in time.
"These environmental regulatory people are very closed-minded," he said. They won't reconsider their standards, and see that some of the agents they call harmful "actually can induce adaptive responses," Calabrese said.
This view - that pollution and radiation can be beneficial - has many experts worried. The fact that such a position might become EPA policy, they say, portends a future in which corporate desires outweigh public and environmental health.
"Industry has been pushing for this for a long time," said David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration who's a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. "Not just the chemical industry, but the radiation and tobacco industries too."
If the EPA ultimately adopts Calabrese's proposed new regulations, researchers say it could change decades of standards and guidelines on clean air, water and toxic waste. It could also fundamentally alter the way the government assesses new chemicals and pesticides entering the marketplace.
"This is industry's holy grail," Michaels said.
For decades, federal agencies charged with investigating and regulating carcinogens, toxic chemicals and radiation have been guided by the assumption that if a substance is dangerous at some level, it is harmful at any level. The higher the exposure, the more harm done. The lower the dose, the less. And the risk doesn't entirely disappear until the substance is removed.
This is known as the linear no-threshold model, and industry dislikes it because it generally assumes that there is no level, or threshold, of exposure that can be considered totally safe.
But research done on low exposures to toxins has been less than definitive. Experiments designed to test carcinogens and radiation at low levels often produce conflicting results - with, for example, some studies of a chemical showing harm, other studies showing no effect, and a few suggesting a net benefit. In other cases, there is no information at all to guide regulators.
In the face of such uncertainty, the EPA and other agencies have taken a cautious approach by relying on the linear no-threshold model. Where data are absent or uncertain, they assume some level of risk.
It is an imperfect but protective approach, many public health specialists say. They argue that in a human population that varies widely in age, health and levels of chemical exposures, it is imperative that the agency cast a wide, conservative and protective net.
For decades, national and international scientific bodies have upheld this approach. It has been reviewed and re-reviewed dozens of times, including most recently by the congressionally chartered National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the EPA.
At the same time, industry has funded scientists to conduct and promote research designed to poke holes in the linear no-threshold model.
And that is where Calabrese comes in. He has long argued that regulators "erred on the side of being protective" at the cost of billions of dollars a year to industry.
Calabrese is a proselytizer of hormesis, the idea that dangerous chemicals and radiation are beneficial at low doses. He says they have a stimulating effect.
Polluting industries have promoted hormesis as an alternative to linear no-threshold for decades, but they had gotten little traction until the EPA embraced it in April.
"It's clearly not mainstream," said Thomas Burke, professor and director of the Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Burke and other experts say there are clearly scenarios in which toxic chemicals can have beneficial effects in clinical and pharmacological settings, such as in the case of tamoxifen, which at low doses is effective at preventing and treating breast cancer but at higher doses can lead to blood clots, stroke and uterine cancer.
But, they say, what happens in a clinical setting can't and shouldn't be immediately applied to a regulatory, public health setting.
In the clinical case, "you have a doctor controlling and administering the medication to an individual," said David Jacobs, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota, who has published studies showing hormetic effects in some industrial pollutants. "The doctor can pull the medication at any time.
"There is no way to control the dose a person gets from an industrial or agricultural chemical," he said. "It's not being doled out in pills and monitored by a physician who can lower it if the patient isn't responding well."
Therefore, Jacobs said, it would be dangerous to use hormesis as a framework for protecting public and environmental health.