Student Blog: your sofa can give you cancer

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In April 2017 the Daily Mail released an article with the following headline: Your sofa can give you CANCER: Material used to fireproof settees are linked to a 74% rise in thyroid tumours.

(see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4395924/Your-sofa-CANCER.html)

It can be seen that the statistic on thyroid cancer rates is accurate because the Cancer Research UK website reads ‘Over the last decade, thyroid cancer incidence rates have increased by almost three-quarters (74%) in the UK…’ However questions are raised in regards to the headlines claim that there is a link between materials used to fireproof settees and a rise in thyroid cancer. The article has made a link between the rise of thyroid cancer and flame retardants based on the following information:

  • The Government was warned of the dangers of the chemicals in flame retardants by the civil servant for furniture fire safety policy.
  • Terry Edge, who left the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last year, said the following ‘Flame retardants are causing thousands of cancers…’
  • According to the Daily Mail, US researchers have blamed the rise in thyroid cancer on flame retardants.
  • Scientists from Duke University found that thyroid cancer patients had a high exposure to flame retardants.
  • The chemicals in flame retardants are linked with cancer because they interfere with hormones.

This demonstrates that there is existing evidence of a relationship between flame retardants and thyroid cancer. However, the wording of the headline makes it misleading. For example, ‘Your sofa can give you cancer’, it isn’t the sofa that gives you cancer like this is suggesting but the chemicals in the flame retardants used to fireproof your sofa.

This article could also be criticised on the following accounts. Further on in the article it explains how these flame retardants are also used in mattresses and carpets, therefore the headline is withholding information when just mentioning sofas.

Something that the scientists at Duke University found that all those with thyroid cancer had in common was their high exposure to specific chemicals in retardants, however this does not mean that it is these chemicals which caused cancer in each one of them. Furthermore, it could be a coincidence that they all have this in common.

The opening sentence of the article reads ‘Toxic chemicals…have caused a surge in thyroid cancer’, this suggests that chemicals alone have caused the increase but there may be other causes they are choosing not to cover in the article.

In addition, it can be seen in the article that one chemical was banned in 2004 and another 16 years ago, the article acknowledged that these chemicals could still be present in homes where furniture featuring these chemicals was bought before these times, however the thyroid cancer rates that the article is reporting is relevant to now. The question could be raised as to why these chemicals which begun to be banned 16 years ago have only apparently caused a rise in thyroid cancer in the last decade.

Despite these criticisms, it can be concluded that the Daily Mail is not entirely wrong in claiming that there is a relationship between flame retardants used on sofas and other furniture and the rate of thyroid cancer, however the headline is misleading. Furthermore, since the topic of this article is related to a health issue it could be argued that it is right that precautions are being taken, moreover the question could be asked as to whether or not these precautions are as a result of an over exaggeration or not.

 

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