Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its “Most Wanted” list of chemicals. With phthalates topping out over short-chain chlorinated paraffins, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA, the EPA is zeroing in on chemicals that not only pose a cancer risk but can also affect brain function.
According to a press release from the organization, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson reinforced the EPA’s commitment to chemical management. “The American people are understandably concerned about the chemicals making their way into our products, our environment and our bodies,” Jackson was quoted as saying. “We will continue to use our authority under existing law to protect Americans from exposure to harmful chemicals and to highlight chemicals we believe warrant concern.”
Jackson continued by saying the national chemical management laws are pitifully outdated. Unchanged since the Toxic Substance Control Act in 1976, there has not only been a lack of initiative in managing the chemicals but there has been an increase in the number of chemicals available in products currently on the market. In 1976, there were 60,000 chemicals on the market. Today, there are 80,000.
Jackson said that chemical safety was “an issue of utmost importance,” especially when products with harmful chemicals get into the hands of children. “…[T]his will remain a top priority for me and our agency going forward,” she said.
While it’s a tremendous first step in chemical management, it seems a bit paltry that only four chemicals top the list when tens of thousands are still out there roaming free and unfettered by law. Specifically, these four can be found in numerous products we come across every day.
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are plasticizers. They are typically used in PVC piping to soften them and increase their flexibility. Phthalates can even be found in plastic toys. In a previous article on this site, we discussed how phthalates are also used in adult novelty toys.
Like phthalates, short-chain chlorinated paraffins are also plasticizers but most often found in sealants, coatings, and flame retardants. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are also present in flame retardants. But with PBDEs, the chemical makeup is similar to that of PCBs, another toxic chemical that doesn’t easily biodegrade and poses an environmental hazard. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), including PFOA which is used in Teflon, help to make things stain, oil, and water resistant. PFOA is not only toxic but a carcinogen. It can cause birth defects, increases the risk of cancer, and can cause extensive liver damage.
We come in contact with these chemicals on a daily basis. And much of the time, we probably aren’t conscious of the health and environmental risks they pose. Flame retardants alone come in the form of upholstery backing, carpeting, and even mattresses. And just last month, three U.S. companies, in conjunction with the EPA, agreed to phase out DecaBDE, a widely used fire retardant chemical.
While the EPA’s efforts seem a bit too little, too late, it’s a good start. And if nothing else, it sends a strong signal that our health and our environment are worth fighting for.
Image courtesy of WheelsOfChange.net.