I am not a chemist. I am not a scientist. I am, however, an informed, health conscious consumer. I read labels, skeptically. I do not trust taglines like “non-toxic,” “natural,” and “pure.” They hold little to no meaning.
In fact, many products with these taglines contain nasty chemicals that most of us would avoid if given the facts and the choice.
Typically, we’re not given either. While many women enjoy shopping, I do not. I’m too busy asking, “What nasty chemicals are in that stuff?” Shopping to me is akin to that cumbersome research project you lollygagged on in college.
Toxic Chemicals in Food, Cosmetics, Baby Products and More
If you keep up with the news, you’ve probably heard of some of these nasty chemicals: toxic flame retardants, endocrine disrupting chemicals like bisphenol-A and phthalates, formaldehyde, and heavy metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury.
These nasty chemicals are in your electronics, furniture, kitchenware, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies. They’re in your kids’ stuff, too. In their nursery room, play items, finger paint, and even in their food.
Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, infertility, developmental disabilities, and other common health problems.
Our nation’s chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the systems in place for assessing chemical safety are woefully outdated and ineffective. We blindly welcome nearly 1,000 new chemicals onto the market (and into our homes) every year. That’s because there are no health and safety data requirements for chemicals -- they don’t have to prove they’re safe -- before entering the marketplace.
As other countries have banned and restricted the use of the most hazardous chemicals, we have provided endless opportunities for these chemicals to make their way into American’s homes, food system, waterways, and bodies. Hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens, neurotoxicants, and reproductive toxicants, have been found in household dust, the Great Lakes and drinking water, soil, fish, wildlife, and American babies. They are in our blood, urine, and breast milk, trespassing on our own bodies without our knowledge.
If you breath, eat, and have skin, you are exposed as you go about your day.
The prevalence of these nasty chemicals in our stuff is overwhelming. Even my friends with a PhD in chemistry cannot shop their way around this problem.
Fortunately, we have a solution at hand.
The Safe Chemicals Act
In early April, Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Gillibrand (D-NY) led the introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act. The bill, co-sponsored by 29 U.S. Senators, would specifically:
Require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify and restrict the most hazardous chemicals,
Require basic health and safety information for chemicals as a condition for entering or remaining on the market,
Upgrade scientific methods for assessing chemical safety,
Arm the EPA with the authority it needs to restrict chemicals that jeopardize the health of our families and environment.
The Safe Chemicals Act has received wide support from a broad range of communities including the health, environmental, health-affected, and business community, and, most recently, an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition has led the effort in uniting more than 11 million individuals, and hundreds of prominent organizations and businesses, to advocate for safer chemicals policy.
The New York Times recently editorialized in favor of the Safe Chemicals Act.
The Toxic Chemical Deniers
Unfortunately, some major players do not support the Safe Chemicals Act. They spend millions every year to ensure that a strong bill is defeated. Their money and influence render them incredibly powerful.
Who would advocate against better protections for our children? Against reducing our exposure to hazardous chemicals linked to conditions like cancer that devastate families? Against protecting our waterways, wildlife, and food system?
The chemical industry -- and they know exactly how to play the game.
The chemical industry is using many of the same strategies used by the tobacco industry decades ago. Their goal is to minimize the issue. Confuse the public. Make people believe that they do care about the health of our families.
Have you been fooled? Most of us have. Most of us believe that the stuff on the shelves of our favorite stores is free of potentially harmful chemicals. The chemical industry’s tactics have been successful at squashing meaningful progress for more than 35 years. Unfortunately, they are nearly guaranteed to be successful again this year.
We will never stop advocating for safer chemicals policy -- and the Safe Chemicals Act is the best way to ensure that the chemicals on the market are safe and that the most hazardous chemicals are phased out. But, there’s another way to effect change.
Mind the Store
Many of our nation’s largest retailers recognize that there are nasty chemicals in our stuff. Retailers are powerful market movers and so are you – their customer. Mind the Store is calling on the 10 largest retailers to work with their suppliers to phase out chemicals on the Hazardous 100 List. The Hazardous 100 List includes formaldehyde, toxic flame retardants, phthalates, and other chemicals linked to common health problems including cancer, infertility, diabetes, and asthma. Informed consumers – particularly moms protecting their families – are changing the marketplace.
Companies respond when their customers demand safer chemicals. We have the power to change things.
Retailers Urged to Pull Potentially Toxic Products
Stand up and join us. Urge your Senators to support the Safe Chemicals Act. Urge the 10 largest retailers to Mind the Store. It’s time to get the nasty chemicals out of our stuff.
About the Author:
Jennifer Canvasser is the Environmental Health Organizer for the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor,Mich., which is the founding organization of HealthyStuff.org. Jennifer has years of experiencehelping families learn how to create healthier environments for young children, and has beeninvolved in environmental advocacy work since her undergraduate days. She completed herundergraduate studies at U.C.L.A and earned her Master’s degree in Social Work with aconcentration in community organization from the University of Southern California. Connectwith us on Facebook.