By guest blogger Andy Igrejas, national campaign director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition
These days, more of us are thinking about what lurks in the manufactured products in our lives. From baby bottles made with bisphenol-A (BPA) to carpets containing formaldehyde, dangerous chemicals are all around us.
Lest we think that these chemicals only sound nefarious because of their long, weird names, there is an increasing body of evidence that they can be extremely toxic. Experts like those on the President’s Cancer Panel believe that we’ve been underestimating the harm to human health from chemicals for years. Scientific studies have documented widespread human exposures to toxics in everyday products, and have linked those exposures to the rising incidence of a number of serious chronic diseases and disorders, including reduced fertility, learning disabilities, breast and prostate cancer, and certain childhood cancers.
How did these toxic intruders end up in our toys, cooking supplies, and cleaning products, and why aren’t manufacturers responsible for upholding our safety? The reality is that tens of thousands of chemicals have been introduced into the market, but little or nothing has been done to ensure their safety. Our federal law regulating the chemicals where we live, work, play, and sleep has not been updated in over thirty years.
In the hopes of creating the healthiest environment for our families, some of us opt for products that are made of natural materials, or claim to be “chemical free.” Yet, try as we might, we simply can’t shop our way out of this problem. Even if everything we purchase has a prominent “green” label, chemical toxins are so pervasive that there is no way to be completely selective about our exposure.
So, what can we do? A powerful first step would be to finally revise our federal law governing chemicals.
Legislation has been introduced in DC this year that would have made substantial changes to the law intended to keep harmful chemicals in check—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. As you might imagine, the chemical industry is not excited about the prospects of increased scrutiny, and deployed a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to defeat reform.
Representatives of the chemical industry are powerful and have extensive influence on politicians. However, we believe that American families, united by the interests of our health and well-being, are even more powerful. (Recent polling conducted by the Mellman Group showed widespread public support for reform.) This is why we are encouraging people who care about this issue to join Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. The coalition represents more than 11 million individuals and includes parents, health professionals, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive-health experts, environmentalists, and businesses from across the nation.
We know that national momentum is on our side. Americans are looking more carefully at our environment and how exposure to toxins impacts our lives. The chemical industry may have been able to ensure three decades without scrutiny, but it can’t go on forever.
Progress is already being made at the state level. Seventy-one bills in 18 states have been passed to address toxic chemicals, and a few states, including Maine, Washington, Minnesota, and California, have moved to develop their own consumer-protection systems in the absence of federal rules. Progress might be slower in DC, but with the involvement of more concerned individuals and families, we are sure that meaningful reform is inevitable.
To learn more about this issue and find out how to join the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, please visit SaferChemicals.org.