What You Don’t Know About Products You Use Everyday
You strive to lead a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you exercise regularly, are on the lookout for healthy recipes and read product labels before you buy? It’s time-consuming to stay well-informed and do all of this legwork. But – you’re not done yet. If you want to keep your family safe and healthy, you’re going to need a Ph.D. and find a way to gain access to trade secrets. Think you can fit that into your already hectic schedule?
Here’s why: Many common products – your sofa, food containers, household building materials, electronics and more – are made using chemicals that you’re not likely to find by reading labels, technical manuals, or anything else. Scientists have linked some of these chemicals to serious diseases like cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s, reproductive disorders and more.
For example, certain phthalate chemicals are linked to breast cancer and improper development of the male reproductive system. A host of chemicals are thought to damage the nervous system, including some potential contributors to autism, which many researchers think results from both genetic and environmental factors. Another group of chemicals, called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, among other diseases. And PCBs, once used in TV sets, were banned from commercial production in the United States in the 1970s, but are still detected in our bodies and the environment today.
Wait, doesn’t the law protect us from toxic chemicals?
Intuition would tell you that it doesn’t make sense for potentially toxic chemicals to be allowed unchecked into the marketplace, where they end up on store shelves. But the record speaks for itself.
The vast majority of more than 80,000 chemicals available for use in the United States have never been adequately tested for safety. You’d need a mobile chemistry lab, a couple of Ph.D.s and a lifetime to sort out this chemical mess on your own.
Why are we in this situation? The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed 35 years ago, was meant to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to obtain information on chemicals from their manufacturers. The EPA was to then use this information to evaluate the safety of each new chemical and regulate those chemicals found to be dangerous.
Unfortunately, roughly 62,000 chemicals were “grandfathered in” when TSCA was passed allowing manufacturers to keep producing these chemicals without any evaluation of their safety. Today, most chemicals on the market are among these original 62,000, and information on their safety remains incomplete and inadequate.
Keeping secrets: Under TSCA, chemical companies can claim virtually any information submitted to the EPA about a chemical is “confidential business information.” As a result, the information is kept secret from the public and even our government.
Tell me the good news – there is good news, right?
While there isn’t an instant solution, there are some things we can do. Sites like Healthy Stuff, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Household Products Database and resources found on this list can help you prepare for your next trip to the store.
However, being a savvy shopper is only a part of the solution. Such an enormous amount of chemicals has made it into the marketplace and the environment, that we need a large-scale solution in order to truly protect our health and the health of future generations. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, recently introduced in Congress, would be a big step forward. It would require that chemical manufacturers prove their chemicals are safe before being allowed into your home.
Some in the chemical industry are lobbying against this new law, so we need concerned citizens to help it pass. Please speak up! Urge your senator to strengthen our toxic chemicals law. Click here to email your senator.
Test your knowledge
What chemical carcinogens (chemicals that cause cancer), endocrine disruptors (chemicals that disrupt the function of the hormone system and impair normal development), and obesogens (chemicals that disrupt normal metabolism functioning and are linked to obesity), can be found in products we come into contact with everyday?
Here’s a quick brainteaser to get you prepped for your next trip to the store. Match the synthetic chemical to the product you can find it in:
Electronics PBDE’s (flame retardants)
Carpet Hexavalent chromium
Nicole Shore is the Communications Director of the Not A Guinea Pig campaign, an Environmental Defense Fund initiative. The Campaign works to raise awareness for the unchecked chemicals in our society and to foster a system that ensures chemicals are demonstrably safe before entering the marketplace.