Consumers' perception of chemicals amounts to "chemophobia" - a fear and distrust of chemicals that is not proportionate to their actual risk, according to Dan Gardner, columnist and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen and author of the book, "The Science of Fear: Why We Fear Things We Shouldn't - And Put Ourselves in Greater Danger." Speaking at a Feb. 25 session of the Personal Care Products Council's annual meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., Gardner cited a study led by risk assessment researcher Dr. Paul Slovic to gauge the public's perception of chemicals in the U.S., UK and Canada. In the study, 75% of participants in each country said they try to avoid chemicals and would not drink water if it contained "even a tiny amount of a carcinogen," roughly 70% that someone exposed to a carcinogen will probably get cancer, and 60% that it is never too expensive to reduce the risk from chemicals, according to Gardner. Chemophobia "drives up the perception of risk," the journalist said. On the other hand, consumer perception of the term "natural" is "as strongly positive as 'chemical' is negative." Gardner suggested that industry adopt a "capitulate-or-fight" strategy - either go green or band together with other consumer product sectors such as the food industry to offer a response "as big and as deep as the problem.
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