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The 5 Most Ridiculously Over-Hyped Health Scares of All Time


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Fear is our national pastime. As a society, we have a long history of getting whipped into a collective frenzy over threats to our health or children that are nearly (or completely) non-existent. No danger is too small or remote to be exaggerated and screamed from the headlines.

For example:

#5.Three Mile Island


On March 28, 1979, what should have been a minor plumbing problem somehow escalated into a reactor fuel meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Station in Pennsylvania. Within five days, the Governor had ordered the evacuation of all children and pregnant women (**** you, dad!) within a five-mile radius of the area. Since that time, the name Three Mile Island has been synonymous with nuclear disaster. Hooters even named one of their hottest (and most delicious) wing sauces after it!


But unlike other nuclear disasters, Chernobyl for example, which caused at least 4,000 eventual deaths, Three Mile Island was responsible for a whopping zero fatalities. In fact, there weren't even any injuries. Later tests revealed that the level of radiation people were exposed to in the five-mile radius was equivalent to the amount of radiation a person is exposed to while flying on a commercial airliner. In other words, the danger was nil.

So why all the ruckus? Much like that restraining order Catherine Zeta-Jones slapped us with a few years back, we blame Michael Douglas for this.

Just 12 days prior to the incident at TMI, The China Syndrome premiered. In the film, Michael Douglas plays a television news reporter who surreptitiously films a nuclear power plant crew as a near meltdown is taking place. As luck would have it, the events depicted in the movie almost perfectly mirrored what occurred at TMI. With the movie stirring public debate about the safety of nuclear power, there was no way the incident at TMI occurring just days later would do anything less than scare the ever-loving **** out of people. And that's exactly what it did.


"Hi, I'm a giant *******."

In 1979, Three Mile Island killed fewer people than ...


Robot attacks. Ford factory worker Robert Williams was killed when a robot hit him in the head, thus outranking Three Mile Island's death toll, 1-0.

#4. Artificial Sweeteners, Circa the '60s


In the 1960s, cyclamates (salts of cyclamic acid) were the artificial sweetener of choice for health conscious consumers everywhere. Although initially only intended for use by the obese and diabetics, they quickly gained popularity among those who wanted to eat like the obese without becoming diabetics.

This all changed in 1969 when FDA scientist, Dr. Jacqueline Verrett, went on the NBC Nightly News to tell the world that baby chick embryos injected with cyclamates suffered from severe birth defects. And she had pictures of the deformed birds to back her claim up! When it comes to putting an entire nation off of non-caloric sweets, few things are as effective a picture of a grotesquely malformed bird. Here's one we made ...


... maybe that's a bad example, because that was kind of awesome. But you get the idea.

At any rate, there's a reason the FDA likes its scientists to run the results of their wacky lab experiments past their peers before they take to national television to share them with the world. In this case, Dr. Verrett's peers were quick to point out that, while the results of her experiment were troubling, most humans didn't get their artificial sweeteners by way of in-the-womb injections and therefore may not be affected in the same way.

But when tests performed a few days later showed that cyclamates caused bladder cancer in 8 out of 240 rats when consumed in an also-real-world-applicable dosage equaling 350 cans of diet soda per day, the deal was sealed. Cyclamates were banned in America.

In the years since the ban, tests on cyclamates have continued but none of them have been able to duplicate the results of the 1969 tests. The World Health Organization along with several other research groups has gone so far as to publicly declare that the evidence shows no link between cyclamates and cancer. Nevertheless, subsequent appeals of the initial cyclamate ban have all been rejected and cyclamates are still unavailable in the United States.

But don't lose too much sleep over it, our team of scientists have conducted some studies of their own and 4 out of 5 of them agree, even if cyclamates were available, most of us would still be lard asses anyway.

In 1969, Cyclamates killed fewer people than ...


... were killed by Moose attacks.

#3.The Cranberry Scare of 1959


When it comes to breaking bad news to people, timing is everything. For instance, if at all possible, you'd prefer that your girlfriend not tell you she's leaving while she's banging your best friend. In a similar vein, it may have not been the best timing ever when on November 9, 1959, just 15 days before Thanksgiving, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Arthur Fleming announced that a shipment of cranberries from Oregon was found to be contaminated with aminotriazole, a weed killer that had been shown to cause thyroid cancer in rats.

As if making the announcement just weeks ahead of the one day of the year when some people do actually eat cranberries wasn't bad enough, Fleming leaned a little too heavily on the "Holy **** we're all going to die!" technique when it came to getting information to the public. Even though tests of cranberries from several other states showed no signs of contamination, when asked how a housewife could be sure the berries she buys are safe, Fleming replied "To be on the safe side, she doesn't buy. Also, he might as well have gone on to say, 'If you've eaten any cranberries in the last 24 hours, make your peace with the Lord.'

In a matter of days, grocery stores across the country were pulling products containing cranberries from their shelves.

Better safe than sorry, right? Well, there was something Fleming failed to mention. For a human to match the cancer causing aminotriazole dosage fed to the lab rats, they would have to consume 15,000 pounds of berries. Daily. For years. As these photos of a plate of cranberry sauce before and after a recent Thanksgiving celebration show, Americans don't eat nearly that amount.


Officials familiar with these minor details grew increasingly wary of the damage that Fleming's comments may have on the cranberry industry and began to distance themselves from the scare. After Presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy both ate cranberries at a campaign stop in Wisconsin, the nation slowly came to their collective senses. By Thanksgiving, cranberries were back on grocery store shelves and back to being universally ignored on Thanksgiving dinner tables nationwide.

In 1959, cranberries killed fewer people than ...


... were killed flying in a plane with Buddy Holly.

#2.Asbestos in New York City Public Schools


Few environmental hazards strike more fear in our terrified little hearts than asbestos. Tell someone they have asbestos in their house and you might as well tell them they have a chainsaw wielding serial killer in their house. Actually, given the exorbitant costs involved with removing asbestos from a house, most people would prefer the serial killer.

So when it was revealed in 1993 that an independent contractor hired by the New York City Board of Education to inspect schools for asbestos had failed to perform the inspections properly, nobody was surprised by Mayor David Dinkins decision to not allow kids to return to classes until proper inspections could be performed. Granted, the decision kept over one million kids out of school for two weeks, threw the plans of their working families into chaos, and panicked the **** out of countless parents who thought they had been sending their kids off to get cancer on a daily basis, but it had to be done to keep the kids safe, right?


So what's the problem? For starters, the type of asbestos that was typically found in schools, including those in New York City, was not the monster-under-the-bed type that tends to kill people. No, when you absolutely, positively must kill every mother****er in the room, crocidolite or amosite is what you need. Chrysotile asbestos, the kind present in the NYC schools, on the other hand, is easily expelled from the lungs and therefore far less dangerous.

The risk of death was in the range of .009 deaths per million. And while you may say that any risk is too much, dammit, you should keep in mind that a child is a thousand times more likely to die playing high school football.

Also, in other schools, botched asbestos removal jobs had actually left the buildings with higher levels of asbestos in the air than if they'd done nothing. But why let that get in the way of a good panic?

In 1993, asbestos in New York schools killed Fewer People Than ...


... were killed in hot air balloon crashes.



If you're looking for another reason to hate that hippie friend of yours that won't shut up about the plight of every plant, animal and insect in danger of extinction, DDT is a good place to start.

Widely considered the first major victory of the environmentalist movement, DDT was banned from use in most applications thanks to a series of insanely half-assed scientific experiments and a book about birds. That book, Silent Spring, was released in 1962 and argued that DDT was not only a carcinogen, but also damaging to wildlife and, especially, certain birds. The public, upon hearing about the possibility of having to live in a world without peregrine falcons and ospreys, did what it does best in situations like this--they lost their **** without a second thought.


The single most important bird on the planet.

Soon, pesticides were the cause du jour for environmentalists and average folks that believe whatever the hell they read, and DDT was banned in 1972. The problem was, the science quoted in the book was all kinds of faulty. One scientific study that purported to show that DDT exposure led to a higher incidence of leukemia in mice was later proven to be more than a little tainted. Turns out, the mice in the experiment were fed moldy food that contained aflatoxin, a known carcinogen. When the test was repeated minus the rancid food, the test results were exactly the same, except without all of the leukemia and stuff.

As for the birds, Audubon Society studies showed that 26 different kinds of birds actually increased in population during DDT's heyday. In cases where bird populations did decline, it was revealed that in most cases the decline began either well before widespread use of DDT began or years after it was banned. Environmentalists dispute the findings, but on the other hand ... who gives a **** about the damn birds? Especially considering ...

In 1972, DDT killed fewer people than ...


****ing malaria.

See, what many people don't know about DDT is that the person who discovered that it could be used as a pesticide actually won a Nobel Peace Prize. Why? Because it was kind of effective in fighting malaria. When spraying of DDT stopped in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), malaria cases rose from 17 in 1963 to 2.5 goddamn million in 1969, an increase of approximately a bajillion fofillion percent. And to this day, the mosquito remains the deadliest killer Mother Nature has to offer, with a confirmed 2 million kills per year.

But, hey at least there's a lot more ospreys around.

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TMI hits home for me. I was in Kindergarten, but I remember that day vividly. If people didn't evacuate and they weren't able to stop it, there'd be alot of us dead.

When I read about Strep-A in the 90's, I feared every little cut and scrape. I have OCD when it comes to washing my hands, all because of an article I read about Strep-A. I never even hear about it now.

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Artificial sweeteners reminds me of the Nutrasweet causes brain cancer scare of the late 80s/early 90s. High level guy at the FDA was the dad of a good friend of mine, had seen all the research, and was on 20/20 or one of those pieces of crap. Although he made plenty of good points regarding the research (including "I've read every study and both of my daughters drink Diet Coke like there's no tomorrow. If there was even a chance..."). Of course, no scares don't equal ratings so they edited the hell out of it to make him and the FDA look completely reckless

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3 Mile Island should be hailed as one of the greatest successes in our history.

Everything worked EXACTLY as it was supposed to preventing the disaster. It should be used as an example of why nuke power IS safe, not as an example of why it's not.

And dont worry about DDT. We'll just give Africans lots of nets instead.

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How about Bird Flu?
Bird Flu was the Y2K of health scares.
I'll third the bird flu.

Actually, the avian flu continues to be a major public health concern. What makes this influenze strain scary is that it is similar to the influenza strain that caused the major pandemic in 1918 that killed over 50 million people. Unlike many strains of influenza where the vulnerable population is made up of those with weak immune response (children and elderly), the vulnerable population with avian flu (and the Spanish flu of 1918) are those with healthy immune function (people our age).


As for DDT - that was a great rebuttal. Many of us in global health are not happy that rabid environmentalists led the way to DDT being banned in many countries, particularly malaria endemic countries.

Let's see, lets ban the use of DDT because it might possibly lead to cancer...but in the meantime MILLIONS of people in southern Africa die every year from malaria. Unbelievable.

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#1 The Alar scare... Alar being a chemical which apple growers used to delay ripenning of the fruit so it would keep better. Meryl Streep lead an assault on washington which cause people to stop eating apples by almost 60% of gross sales. They suspended the use of Alar and after an 18 month investigation quietly put it back on the market saying all the critisms were baseless.

#2 Sacrine scare... Feed a lab rat nothing but 2.5 times his body weight of sacrine on a prolonged basis and gues what, he get's tumors after a few years. Feed him carrots and celery, and guess what he get's tumors after a few years. Sacrine's patents were expiring and neutrasweet was brand new on the market. That was the motivation for the entire boon dogle.

#3 The red MM scare of 1976.... Mars removed red mm's from the color assortment due to health concerns over the dye amaranth ( FD&C Red #2 )... which was a suspected carcinogen... replaced the red one's with the color orange.... This dispite the fact that red M&M's did not contain the dye in question.. The action was purely to satify worried consumers.

I think the article is a little biased...

DDT was not a false scare. It took more than a decade for environmentalists to get the US to ban it, and half a decade after that until the world followed suit for agricultural purposes.. The bald eagle is only now coming back from extinction widley blamed on DDT, and it's rebound is directly credited to the ban.

DDT is still used today to fight deseases like malaria, It was only banned globally for agricultural use, not desease fighting.


Aspestos... Jesus, It's about the most carsogenic thing we know of which is not radioactive. I don't know how anybody could claim aspestos narrowly in NY public schools was a false scare..

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straight non-IV drugs users that didn't need blood.

exactly.... aids killed like 90% of hemopheliacs in France. During the 1980's.


And scores of folks in the United States contracted aids when they went into the hospital for blood transfusions..... The American Red Cross knew the blood was tainted, but decided it was better to just use it and let folks take their chances... The first reports of aids caused by transfusions started in 1980-1982... The Red Cross didn't start testing for aids in all blood donors until 1985. ( I don't think a test existed until then.. ) But they still insisted the blood supply was safe.. Meanwhile hospitals allowed patients who were about to have an elective operation donate their own blood over time to be used in their own operations...


Paul Manfred Glaser who played starsky in the Starsky and Hutch TV show of the 1970's became an aids activist when his wife recieved tainted blood in a hospital during the delivery of her daughter..... Before she discoved she had the desease she had passed it on to her two children. The wife and daughter subsequently died... One child lives on today HIV positive.

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