by Brittany Shutts
It is overwhelming to consider the quantity of potentially harmful chemicals in our environment and the products we use. Some people seem driven to paranoia by the constant flow of new information regarding the risks of products and chemicals they once believed to be safe. From water bottles to baby bottles, the checklist of products to be wary of continues to grow.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is appealing to the government to crack down on the regulation of chemicals. They claim that the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 needs to be rewritten to require that chemicals be tested before they are released in products. The AAP also wants a “post-market surveillance system” to look out for potential health complications once the chemical is on the shelves. A similar system is already used for prescription drugs.
Rather than testing chemicals before they reach the consumer, a chemical entering the market is, in a way, innocent until proven guilty. Unless the government can provide adequate proof of a substance’s “unreasonable risk,” it remains on the market. A great deal of damage can be done before a chemical is put to trial.
Currently, only five chemicals have been banned by the EPA: PCBs, chlorofluorocarbon propellants in aerosol cans, dioxin, asbestos, and hexavalent chromium. Out of the 80,000 chemicals that are used in the US, the EPA required just 20,000 to be tested. The resulting system leaves us with no way of knowing which chemicals are harmful.
Potentially harmful chemicals may have the most significant consequences for children. The chemicals that young children come into contact with as they play on the floor and put objects into their mouths have complicated effects on their development that change as their bodies mature.
It seems that there is a lot we don’t know about the chemicals we encounter in the environment. The EPA released a report last year revealing that 17.000 of the chemicals in use in the U.S. have been kept secret due to a loophole in the Toxic Substances Control Act. Neither the state officials nor the EPA know the names and properties of these chemicals because they are protected by the law as trade secrets. The Environmental Working Group calls it, “a regulatory black hole, a place where information goes in – but much never comes out.” Many of these newly identified chemicals are in products marketed to children.
One well-known chemical that has been accused of impairing human health is Bisphenol A. BPA is often found in the lining of food and beverage cans, many plastic bottles, and in the coating of cash register receipt tape. Ninety percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were found to have BPA in their systems. The chemical has been restricted by China, Canada, Japan, and the European Union, as well as many state and local governments in the US.
Since the health effects of BPA have become public knowledge, a market for BPA-free products has been created. New polymers are replacing BPA plastic in bottles, cans, and receipt tape. A recent article in The Atlantic questions the safety of BPA-free products. How can we be certain that BPA-free products aren’t just as dangerous as their endocrine-disrupting predecessors? The only information available on Tritan copolyester – the most widely used BPA-free plastic – is provided by the company that manufactures it. The Material Safety Datasheets show that the plastic has not been tested for toxicity or possible environmental effects. You can find the article here.
This month, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced a bill that would modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA would have the ability to get information on the health risks of chemicals from their producers and focus first on the chemicals that pose the greatest risks.
If you are concerned about the regulation of chemicals, support the efforts of politicians that take a stand for chemical safety. You can read up on some of the dangers of these chemicals on the EPA’s Chemicals of Concern list.