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Environmental chemicals: Letter in the Times, 6 June 2013

Sir, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists does no one any favours by perpetuating the myth that synthetic chemicals are intrinsically more dangerous than natural ones (“Toxic alarm ‘passes the buck to mothers’ ”, June 5). Every moment of our lives we are exposed to a vast array of environmental chemicals, all of which — whether synthetic or naturally occurring — can cause harm in sufficient quantity.

Most of us have been cured of potentially dangerous infections by use of (synthetic) antibiotics. Meanwhile, (natural) botulinum toxin, one of the most poisonous substances known, is used in tiny doses as cosmetic Botox injections. Caffeine, weight for weight, is considerably more toxic than most pesticides, and a cup of coffee itself contains a range of chemicals which are carcinogenic at a high enough level, but coffee drinking seems to offer more benefits than risks.

Nothing in life is without some risk, however small, and the fruitless drive to eliminate all dangers merely alarms people. Any hypothetical increase in safety will be offset many times over by higher stress levels.

Martin Livermore
Scientific Alliance, Cambridge