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In the Battle Against Science, Try Compassion

In case fearmongering weren’t enough reason to publish a study about the alleged impact of chemicals used in everyday household products, scientists are now taking on the role of economists.

According to a paper published in The Lancet, and reported by CNN, “routine exposure” to a set of endocrine-disrupting chemicals including flame retardants, phthalates, plastic component DEHP, and pesticidesare responsible for more than $340 billion in annual medical costs and lost wages.

The American Chemistry Council criticized the study, using the same arguments increasingly used by companies, industries, and their trade associations. Causation has not been proven. The methods are weak. The data is inaccurate.

Unfortunately, no one cares. The argument doesn’t advance the position of the association or its members on the larger risks facing the industry and its members. To be seen as credibleand not just acting in its own self-interestthe industry needs to address issues and engage consumers in a different way than it has in the past. Otherwise, it runs the risk of increased regulatory scrutiny, decreasing credibility with customers and consumers, and losses in the courtroom.

Increasing Regulatory Burden

TIME notes that the “study contributes to a growing debate about how best to assess and manage the safety of common chemicals.” The article briefly compares the EPA’s regulatory approach in the US with the governing approach in the EU, where the precautionary principle is paramount. If companies want to enjoy the freedom to improve and transform products into the future, talking about the safety of the chemicals used and the products made isn’t enough. Be transparent. Go above and beyond compliance to reduce regulatory scrutiny.

Consumer Fear

The fact of the matter is that regulatory compliance doesn’t mean anything to consumers who don’t trust the system. Particularly when there is no clear understanding of what causes so many of the health concerns we fear. Obesity. Intellectual disabilities. Autism. Cancer. Of course it would be nice to live in a world where all questions are answered and we could avoid all risks. But that would also mean never driving a car or stepping foot on a plane. The key is relating to consumers. Be human. Address concerns with emotion, not logic. Use simple terms, not scientific jargon.

Litigation Risks

Unfortunately, if the fear is left unanswered, if misinformation goes uncorrected, and enough correlational studies pile up, companies end up in the courtroom, defending a product that may have never been proven to cause a human health effect. But it doesn’t matter. Sympathetic witnesses share their stories. Legal fees and lawsuits pile up. And it gets harder and harder to defend the product.

So don’t let it get to that point. Proactively address consumer concerns. Take the opportunity to educate them on their emotional and intellectual level. And when necessary, correct the record early and often. Your brand depends on it.

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