No one is eager to touch off the kind of hysteria that preceded the government's decision to move against Alar, the growth regulator once used by apple growers. When celebrities like Meryl Streep spoke out against Alar and the press fanned public fears, some schools and parents rushed to pluck apples out of the mouths of children. Yet all this happened before scientists had reached any consensus about Alar's dangers.
Rhetoric about dioxin may push the same kind of emotional buttons. The chemical becomes relatively concentrated in fat—rich foods—including human breast milk. Scientists estimate that a substantial fraction of an individual's lifetime burden of dioxin—as much as 12%— is accumulated during the first year of life. Nonetheless, the benefits of breast—feeding infants, the EPA and most everyone else would agree, far outweigh the hazards. Now environmentalists say dioxin and scores of other chemicals pose a threat to human fertility—as scary an issue as any policymakers have faced.
But in the absence of conclusive evidence, what are policymakers to do? What measure can they take to handle a problem whose magnitude is unknown? Predictably, attempts to whipsaw public opinion have already begun. Corporate lobbyists urge that action be put on hold until science resolves the unanswered questions. Environmentalists argue that evidence for harm is too strong to permit delay. This issue is especially tough because the chemicals under scrutiny are found almost everywhere.
Since many of them contain chlorine or are by—products of processes involving chlorine compounds, the environmental group Greenpeace has demanded a ban on all industrial uses of chlorine. The proposal seems appealingly simple, but it would be economically wrenching for companies and consumers alike. With the escalating rhetoric, many professionals in the risk—assessment business are worried that once again emotion rather than common sense will drive the political process. "There is no free lunch, " observes Tammy Tengs, a public—health specialist at Duke University. "When someone spends money in one place, that money is not available to spend on other things. " She and her colleagues have calculated that tuberculosis treatment can extend a person's life by a year for less than $10,000—surely a reasonable price tag. By contrast, extending a life by a year through asbestos removal costs nearly $2 million, since relatively few people would die if the asbestos were left in place. That kind of benefit—risk analysis all too rarely informs the decisions made by government regulators.
As the EPA raises anew the dangers of dioxin, the agency needs to communicate its findings to the public in a calm and clear fashion. John Graham, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, suggests that people should strive to keep the perils posed by dioxin in perspective and remember other threats that are more easily averted. "Phantom risks and real risks compete not only for our resources but also for our attention, " Graham observes. "It's a shame when a mother worries about toxic chemicals, and yet her kids are running around unvaccinated and without bicycle helmets. "
If it appeared in an article that the author read, he would most strongly agree with which of the following statements?[A] Asbestos and radon have caused serious health problems in the past that many government officials chose to ignore.
[B] Dioxin is the foremost threat to human fertility and needs to be addressed in order to prevent serious health problems in the future.
[C] Environmental groups and corporate lobbyists often take polarized stances which eventually are modified by governmental agencies.
[D] Thorough research and investigation of environmental problems should be performed by the government before any unnecessary hysteria spreads throughout the public.
According to the passage, it is dangerous to react drastically to recently posed health hazards for all of the following reasons EXCEPT:[A] proven precautions are overlooked.
[B] public fear leads to irrational action.
[C] insurance premiums will increase.
[D] economic burdens can occur.
In the context of the passage, the author uses the term "whipsaw public opinion " (3rd paragraph) to refer to:[A] changing the needs of the community.
[B] convincing citizens to accept a polarized viewpoint on health hazards.
[C] offering a variety of alternatives for health hazards.
[D] acting irrationally in response to government policy.
For which of the following reasons does the author cite the Alar incident in paragraph 1?[A] To show the bureaucracy involved in changing a chemical plant's mode of operation
[B] To illustrate the problem in publicly announcing health hazards before conclusive scientific evidence has been formulated
[C] To show that drastic reaction is often the best way to solve a crisis
[D] To demonstrate that it takes a celebrity to effect public change
Which of the following statements, if true, would most weaken the author's argument?[A] The EPA carefully considered the research results of a highly—qualified team of scientists, economists, and public policy makers who researched the asbestos and Alar threats before any governmental action was performed.
[B] Large numbers of babies have been born with defects over the last 20 years when levels of Alar have been extremely high.
[C] Activist groups, such as Greenpeace, believe that the use of chemicals in our society has reached overwhelming proportions and needs to be regulated immediately.
[D] Corporate lobbyists consider economic factors that may make certain precautions economically unfeasible.
All of the following are mentioned by the author in the passage in support of the main argument EXCEPT:[A] the idea that people often overlook health threats for which we already possess remedies.
[B] biased groups will try to sway citizens into believing that their stance is the only correct way of handling health hazards.
[C] public reaction has lead to unnecessary actions that have wasted time and money.
[D] chemicals in food and homes have caused too many deaths in modern society.