Backstreet boy's off-key crusade

Posted: Feb 28, 2001 12:00 AM
If you thought the musical offerings of the Backstreet Boys were hard on the ears, wait'll you hear them croon about their political pet causes. One member of the famous pop singing group, Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson, has established an environmental foundation allied with the left-wing Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. The Seattle Times reports that the "teen star" visited the renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center this week to promote environmental-health education. (If Boy Richardson -- a married, 29-year-old man who is one year younger than me -- is a "teen" star, then I'm, like, a teen columnist.) The mission of Richardson's "Just Within Reach: An Earth Foundation" is three-fold, according to the Web site: -- To educate and inspire people to understand and value the unique world around them; -- To foster a sense of personal responsibility for our actions and their impact on our environment; -- And to hold accountable those who exploit from future generations the very health of the Earth, its natural treasures and all living things. (Huh?) Richardson (or "Kev," as he signs his online messages) preaches recycling and energy conservation to help raise awareness of environmental issues -- as if we didn't have enough mediocre singers and aging actresses and other Hollywood has-beens vying to salvage their careers by saving the planet. Richardson also recruited the Sierra Club to pass out literature at Backstreet Boys concerts in order to provide an "environmental vibe" at the shows. But the main goal of the foundation, it seems, is to help spread scare-mongering propaganda about the alleged link between cancer and environmental pollution. ''I feel like our environment ties in to a lot of problems we have with our health today,'' Richardson said at a press conference in December when he unveiled the foundation. Well, yes, Kev, many eco-activists "feel" like chemical pollution is the cause of all our ills. But science doesn't back that vibe up. Take two of Richardson's favorite environmentally correct movies -- "Erin Brockovich" and "A Civil Action" -- which he says inspired him to start his foundation. Brockovich catalogued a cornucopia of illnesses in a small California town and connected them to a single pollutant, chromium 6. Minute amounts of the heavy metal, she claimed, had caused everything from uterine and breast cancer to birth defects, nosebleeds, rashes, immune disorders and miscarriages. Brockovich led a hysterical fear campaign that pressured utility PG&E to shell out more than $300 million to settle the case. Yet, as New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata noted, "federal agencies whose scientists were not involved in the litigation said evidence was lacking that chromium 6 in groundwater caused a myriad of health problems." Recent research on chromium 6 exposure in Brockovich's town showed that not only was there no excess of cancer when compared with the general California population, but that the overall PG&E worker death rate was significantly lower than that of other Californians. "A Civil Action" involved industrial pollution and contaminated drinking water in a New England town with a nearby tannery, which was blamed for a rash of cancers. John Travolta played a lawyer who blamed childhood leukemia in the neighborhood on the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE). But science author Michael Fumento notes that numerous studies on both rodents and humans have found no TCE-leukemia connection. In fact, of four studies on humans exposed to high occupational levels of TCE -- sometimes over decades -- "all four found the workers had lower rates of the disease than average," Fumento writes. But never mind all that. Richardson is planning to do public-service announcements with Brockovich and educational videos for children. One more piece of junk science material in the schools. Just what the public schools need. When cancer specialists at the Hutchinson Center in Seattle told Richardson that the evidence linking low-level exposures of environmental pollution to cancer is weak, the Boy shrugged it off. "What I learned here today is that they don't know a whole lot about it," Richardson said.
They don't? It's time for this overgrown Boy to shave his goatee, go back to school, and get out of the spotlight.