The chemical industry may be finding success influencing federal and state governments but must do more to win the hearts of the American public, a leader for a new nonprofit group linked to a controversial political consultant said last week.
Joseph Perrone, chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science — part of a larger tax-exempt group run by the Berman and Co. public relations firm — said industry needed to mount a coordinated effort to paint the risks of common chemicals as acceptable to the public and boost trust in federal regulatory agencies that evaluate them.
CAS’s prime speaking slot at the nation’s largest chemical regulatory conference, known as GlobalChem, in Washington, D.C., was the biggest stage yet for the nascent organization, which opened in 2014. Perrone is a relative newcomer to the chemicals advocacy world.
Perrone’s message is that customers don’t trust chemical companies, and they need “a good PR plan, which is external to the company, which is a third party. Because, quite frankly, whether we like it or not, they don’t believe you.”
He recalled visiting the New York World’s Fair in 1964 when he was 10 and described nostalgically exhibits like the “Wonderful World of Chemistry” and a booth about making nylon.
Today, he said, companies have to deal with “advocacy groups fighting you on every front, between plastics and other chemicals that are in the environment and everything you use and see.”
High-profile chemical skeptics include celebrities like Jessica Alba, the “Food Babe” blogger Vani Hari, and television doctors like Mehmet Oz and Joseph Mercola, Perrone said.
The new group’s goal, he said, was to train the public and the media to present the risk of harm from chemicals in a way comparable to that of vaccines.
While some Americans believe vaccines cause health problems, the broad majority “trust the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and their doctors that this is going to keep their child safe.”
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 grandfathered in tens of thousands of chemicals in use at the time of the bill’s passage. Those materials did not receive the kind of scientific scrutiny that new pharmaceutical products receive.
Industry must also “train the media” to question scientists more aggressively when those scholars publish studies flagging health problems with chemicals, Perrone said.
While the Food Babe may be an easy target, researchers at big-name universities are also fair game, Perrone said after his talk last week.
“I did my postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health,” Perrone said. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t mind saying this now, but it’s basically a school of Marxism. They are very, very left wing, and opposing viewpoints don’t go over particularly well sometimes in a university like that.”