How Safe is Safe Enough? Setting Safety Goals
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The public is concerned, perhaps even to the point of paranoia, about a host of hazards associated with current production and lifestyles, including pesticide residues in food, living near toxic waste dumps or nuclear power plants, highway safety, and the safety of air travel, to name a few. Supermarkets in California and Massachusetts now compete by advertising that their produce is free from pesticides. A few years ago, many people threw away boxes of cake mix or cornbread mix out of fear that tiny residues of EDB (the pesticide ethylene dibromide) might cause cancer. In 1989 consumption of red apples, apple juice, and other apple products all but stopped because of fear of Alar residuals. During the same period, the importation of all fruit from Chile was suspended and consumers were urged to dispose of all fresh produce that could have come from Chile -- all because two grapes were found to have been injected with small amounts of cyanide.
In these and many similar cases, the concerns could not and cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. Some theoretical models such as the "one-hit" theory predict that cancer could be caused by even the most minute exposure to a carcinogen.