Study The Facts | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 45 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: November 9, 2009

Study The Facts

Department: Letters

I read both Rudy Baum's Editor's Page on "The Story of Stuff" and the letter from Lena Hakim (C&EN, May 18, page 3, and Aug. 17, page 3). Strangely, I find myself in agreement with Baum for once.

Hakim states that the "video is scientifically accurate." She also states that "science supports the neurotoxicity of brominated flame retardants." I'd just like to comment on these two statements. First, if the statement is made that the video is scientifically accurate, then there should only be small errors to argue over, otherwise Hakim's premise is false. So, let's take just one statement at the beginning of the video.

The video states that "50% of federal [U.S.] tax money is going to the military." However, Wikipedia states that in 2007, the year the video was made, only about 18% of the federal budget went to the military ($505 billion military budget to a $2.8 trillion total budget). Well, I guess we don't need to dive into lowest detection limit levels to see that this is way off of the statement in the video; therefore, we can assume that Hakim's statement that the video is scientifically accurate is incorrect.

Second, her statement about the neurotoxicity of brominated flame retardants was made to bolster the arguments made in the video. This is only half the truth (a problem with much of the video as well). Hakim indicates in her letter that many chemical compounds have been found to cause health issues in humans at parts-per-million levels. Although this is true, there are also many chemicals that cause little harm or might even help people live healthier lives when exposure is at low levels.

Let's pick a simple one like zinc. When taking a high quantity of zinc, humans can have all kinds of negative reactions. So given Hakim's argument, we should not have zinc in our multivitamins. However, we have to have zinc in our diet because we need it to survive.

Having said all this, what we are left with is that you should do the homework yourself. Do not just swallow the supposed facts in "The Story of Stuff" video or be fooled by someone who says they have credentials. It doesn't really take a lot to verify facts (like the difference between 18% and 50%). Are other facts in "The Story of Stuff" true? Probably. However, when the story starts on such a blatant falsehood, I'd be leery of anything in it.

Michael Watson
Midland, Mich.

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