As a skeptic, any claim which is accompanied by the phrase, "the science is settled," or "science has proven," should set off alarm bells. You will also notice a peculiar high usage of the word "can" in explaining the possible consequences of brief secondhand smoke exposure. The truth of the matter is:
- Every "safe" chemical has some level at which it is not safe.
- Every "dangerous" chemical has some level at which it is safe.
The father of toxicology, Paracelsus said, "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous."
A real world example might be in order:
Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, referred to by some as Hydrogen Hydroxide, Dihydrogen Oxide, or simply Hydric Acid. This chemical is used in the development of genetically engineered crops, and is used as an industrial solvent and coolant. Fruits and Vegetables once contaminated with DHMO cannot be decontaminate, even by carefully washing them. DHMO is found in many carbonated beverages, and isn't even listed as an ingredient in many supposedly "all-natural" fruit juices.
The acute toxicity of DHMO as measured by its median lethal dose (LDv50) is only 90g/kg, at which half the test subjects die. Babies are especially susceptible to DHMO because of their low body weight (avg. 3.5 kg). DHMO will pass to the unborn children of mothers, and is passed to babies through their mother's breast milk. In solid form, DHMO has been known to cause severe tissue damage.
The air isn't even DHMO free. DHMO was found to be a major component of acid rain. DHMO concentrations in the air can be greater than 30g/m3. Air quality concerns have resulted in some states canceling recess on days in which the air quality is poor, but DHMO is not a measured pollutant in the EPA's Air Quality Index, so it is impossible to know how safe the air is.
DHMO is the leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, and the highest rates are among children 1 to 4 years of age. From 2000 to 2009, the babies and newborn death rate increased from 23.1 to 27.7 per 100,000, this is greater than half the rate of all deaths due to Lung and Bronchus Cancer 52.2 per 100,000 = (158,592 total US deaths LC) /(304,059,724 Estimated US population) * 100,000. If you count deaths at all ages, DHMO was responsible for an estimated 3,880 deaths in the USA, more than the estimated deaths each year due to secondhand smoke (3,400 per year).
Even with all the known dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide, many industries continue to lobby congress to limit regulation of DHMO use in agriculture and industry. The EPA has been powerless to stop big business from dumping DHMO into our rivers and streams, or from spewing it directly into the air we breathe. Environmental organizations like the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division have been actively spreading the truth about the dangers of DHMO, and extensive polling have shown the public supports a DHMO ban in the United States.
The above statements are all 100% true, but extremely misleading. If you are currently attempting to protect yourself from the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide, you will likely be issued a Darwin Award. This dangerous chemical is water.
All "dangerous" chemicals are also safe at some level. Many of the chemical compounds listed below are found in secondhand smoke. To the right of these chemicals, is the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) allowed by the EPA in drinking water with notes indicating possible natural causes.
|Arsenic |0.010 mg/L3 |(Erosion of natural deposits)
|Lead |0.015 mg/L3 |(Erosion of natural deposits)
|Benzene |0.005 mg/L3 |
|Cadmium |0.005 mg/L3 |Corrosion of galvanized pipes; erosion of natural deposits
|Chromium |0.100 mg/L3 |Discharge from steel and pulp mills, erosion of natural deposits.
|Benzo[a]pyrene|0.002 mg/L3 |
|Toluene |1.000 mg/L3 |Discharge from petroleum factories
|Vinyl chloride|0.002 mg/L3 |Leaching from PVC pipes;discharge from plastic factories
Lead naturally occurs in the soil and water. EPA limits Lead to 15 ppb (parts per billion). If your drinking water does not exceed that level, it is of no concern.
- Does my water have lead in it above EPA’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb)?
If the answer is no, your water does not contain lead at current levels of concern.
The EPA says we shouldn't be concerned about lead in our drinking water that is below an action level, but the Surgeon General wants to repeatedly warn us that NO risk free level of second-hand smoke exists. Lead is a carcinogen whether it is in your drinking water, or in your smoke. It seems foolish to warn us about exposure from one source while ignoring the other.
Radiation is a potent carcinogen that has a low recommended exposure limits each year (5 rem/year whole body OSHA, 100 mrem/year general public, but it is used as a treatment to cure Prostate Cancer. The benefits of radiation therapy almost always exceed the risk.
Damage occurring at the cellular or molecular level, can disrupt the control processes, permitting the uncontrolled growth of cells cancer This is why ionizing radiation's ability to break chemical bonds in atoms and molecules makes it such a potent carcinogen.
Your food isn't even safe. Bananas because of their high potassium content, contain more [radioactive Potassium] than other fruit. Eating 2 bananas a day for a year would expose you to more radiation than you would get from a single chest x-ray (about 10 mrem).
Chinese oil cooking fumes, barbequed foods causing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in the food or carcinogens from the wood smoke itself, there is no risk free exposure to anything.
There is NO risk-free level of blank exposure
Fill in the blank however you want, water, bananas, BBQ smoke, Chinese grills, or anything else. Living is full of risk, the only away to avoid all risk is to cease to exist. The Surgeon General's warning about there being no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure is misleading, and ignores hundreds of years of toxicology that show that all poisons have some minor exposure level that is not harmful. If brief exposure to secondhand smoke has you running scared, don't forget about thirdhand smoke.