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Saving Us From Everyday Exposure To Toxic Chemicals

Smoking might be banned in most places, but there are still toxic chemicals everywhere—and no requirements that the companies who make them warn you about them. A new law is aiming to change all that.

A law that could ameliorate our everyday exposure to toxins is currently being debated in the Senate. It might just get passed—if the industrial chemical industry doesn’t get in the way.

Look around. Toxic industrial chemicals are everywhere: mattresses, electronics, holiday lights, laundry detergent, and even in the insulation of the building you’re sitting in right now. This is a big issue. According to testing from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans have over 212 industrial chemicals lurking in their bodies, including six known carcinogens and other chemicals linked to birth defects and cancer.

The biggest problem lies in the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), an outdated law aimed at regulating chemical use. The act grandfathered in 60,000 chemicals that were used before the act was passed, and only 200 of those chemicals have been tested for safety. TSCA has also allowed chemical manufacturers to hide the ingredients used in some of their chemicals—so ingredients in 20% of the 80,000-plus chemicals on the market are secret.

"New chemicals get a little more scrutiny, but the catch is that the EPA is not allowed to require companies to submit a minimum set of safety data with the new chemical that they are notifying the agency about for review," explains Richard Denison, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.

In the past several decades, the number and volume of chemicals used in consumer products have risen dramatically. This is partially the result of manufacturers substituting synthetic materials in place of natural products. "There has been a proliferation of products, and a consumer demand for a variety of products," says Denison.

Unfortunately for consumers, it’s sometimes hard to know what chemicals are dangerous until large amounts of people have experienced negative effects. Take BPA, a now-infamous endocrine-disrupting chemical used to make everything from polycarbonate plastic bottles to epoxy can linings. Manufacturers used to say that there was no way people would get exposed to the chemical. "The mantra was that you don’t have to worry once it’s in a piece of plastic because it won’t get out," says Denison. Now, of course, we know that BPA leeches from plastic and can linings and ends up inside our bodies.

The stream of misinformation (and general lack of information) surrounding industrial chemicals may soon come to a halt if the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 is passed. The act, which will be voted on in the Senate in the near future, hopes to overhaul TSCA through a number of provisions. These include requiring chemical manufacturers to submit a minimum data set for every chemical they produce (and giving the EPA authority to demand more data if necessary); requiring the agency to putting the most widespread toxic chemicals on a priority review list; forcing the EPA to "impose conditions that will immediately reduce exposure" to these chemicals; and mandating that the agency create a program to establish safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.

The piece of the act that is perhaps most immediately relevant to consumers requires the EPA to establish a public database containing information about chemicals submitted to the agency as well as decisions made by the EPA about these chemicals. Even chemicals submitted as confidential business information will be viewable by some government officials, both at the local and state level. Chemical companies, in other words, will no longer be able to hide their toxic baggage.

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates is not exactly thrilled about the Safe Chemicals Act. "There is broad stakeholder agreement that TSCA needs to be modernized, but the Safe Chemicals Act is not workable," said SOCMA President Lawrence D. Sloan in a recent statement. "It fails to adequately consider its impact on innovation or balance chemical safety with continued manufacturing in the US. Ultimately, the Safe Chemicals Act will have to consider how the costs and delays associated with increased data submission will impact US jobs. Right now, there has been insufficient discussion about this important issue."

But because of the work of organizations like Greenpeace, the Environmental Working Group, Perkins+Will, and U.S. PIRG, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the role that toxic chemicals play in our daily lives—and in disease development. "Diseases are increasing in incidence that can only be explained by environmental exposure, including rising rates of leukemia, brain tumors in children, autism, asthma, reproductive problems, and learning and developmental disabilities," says Denison.

Even if this bill fails, the discussion will continue. Eventually, it may even get to the point where the EPA has no choice but to make drastic changes. Because as we have seen with the Occupy movement, hell hath no fury like a population scorned.

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  • harleyrider1989

    No need to worry it will never pass the house,besides President Gingrich will ABOLISH the EPA just like if it were slavery! A great speech will be made on that day of ABOLITION from eco-terrorism!

  • harleyrider1989

    The anti-smoking  PSYCHOSIS has been studied and found non-harmful and they can seek treatment!
    Toxicol Rev. 2003;22(4):235-46.
    Idiopathic environmental intolerance: Part 1: A causation analysis applying Bradford Hill's criteria to the toxicogenic theory.
    Staudenmayer H, Binkley KE, Leznoff A, Phillips S.
    Behavioral Medicine, Multi-Disciplinary Toxicology, Treatment and Research Center, Denver, Colorado 80222, USA.
    Idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI) is a descriptor for a phenomenon that has many names including environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity and chemical intolerance. Toxicogenic and psychogenic theories have been proposed to explain IEI. This paper presents a causality analysis of the toxicogenic theory using Bradford Hill's nine criteria (strength, consistency, specificity, temporality, biological gradient, biological plausibility, coherence, experimental intervention and analogy) and an additional criteria (reversibility) and reviews critically the scientific literature on the topic. The results of this analysis indicate that the toxicogenic theory fails all of these criteria. There is no convincing evidence to support the fundamental postulate that IEI has a toxic aetiology; the hypothesised biological processes and mechanisms are implausible....

  • harleyrider1989

    Don't fret over list of cancer 'risks'
    [["We are being bombarded" with messages about the dangers posed by common things in our lives, yet most exposures "are not at a level that are going to cause cancer," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer. Linda Birnbaum agrees. She is a toxicologist who heads the government agency that just declared styrene, an ingredient in fiberglass boats and Styrofoam, a likely cancer risk. "Let me put your mind at ease right away about Styrofoam," she said. Levels of styrene that leach from food containers "are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than have occurred in the occupational setting," where the chemical in vapor form poses a possible risk to workers. Carcinogens are things that can cause cancer, but that label doesn't mean that they will or that they pose a risk to anyone exposed to them in any amount at any time.]]
    Now,Im glad to see the ACS admitting to the dose response relationship finally!
    So now we understand why the following is factual:
    [[are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than have occurred in the occupational setting," where the chemical in vapor form poses a possible risk to workers.]]
    Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, Vol. 14, No. 1. (August 1991), pp. 88-105.
    [[ETS between 10,000- and 100,000-fold less than estimated average MSS-RSP doses for active smokers]]
    [[OSHA the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded]]

  • Ldelp84227

    I am not so much worried about Cancer as I am about how I feel when I am near many products with these untested chemicals. Many of these products cause more problems when heated up as teflon, shampoos, conditioners, etc. in the mist from the shower . But I visited my sister a few years ago and something in the house caused me to get very sick. I could detect something and was okay but then got a migraine and eventually was vomiting for about 14 hours. A few years later my sister and her husband had Cancer. I would think something happened to them that was caused from their environment. Maybe if they listened to people that can detect fumes that others can't perhaps we could get somewhere. And you have to think of the amount of chemicals we are exposed to daily, not just the styrofome cup. The cancer society has all this funding where as many chemicals do cause cancer. The people suffering from these trade secret products have no help what so ever.