Toxic – Better living through chemistry?

My mother is a pharmacist, and every year since I was in preschool (until I became a teenager and far too embarrassed to have her show up at school) she would come to my class and teach us about poisons.  She would tell us to stay away from things like dish soap under the sink and pills that looked like candy.  She would hand out poison stickers for parents to put on the chemicals at home.  She didn’t, however, cover toxic chemicals – nor would a kid know what those look like today, because they are in EVERYTHING (and there just aren’t enough stickers to warn us).

A policy statement published today, the American Academy of Pediatrics calls revising US chemical-management to protect children and pregnant women.  The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed in 1976 regulates only a few chemicals – polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), dioxins, hexavalent chromium, radon, and lead.  The Act has not been updated since and today, companies making chemicals do not have to research them for safety before they go on the market and into our homes.  As it stands the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous.  As a result, the EPA has only been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the US.

We cannot know all the harm these chemicals cause to our body.  More so, we cannot begin to imagine what these chemicals do to the development and growth of children. Only recently did we start paying attention to bisphenol A (BPA) in our plastics including water bottles and baby bottles.   Yet what about the chemicals sprayed on our plants, chemicals in our skin care products and makeup, in our dish soap and laundry detergents, and just about everything we touch these days.  Not to sound too alarming, but we must consider the effect on our health of these chemicals that haven’t undergone any sort of scrutiny regarding their safety.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey-D) wants to change this and introduced legislation for a “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011”.  The Senator tells us:

The average American has more than 200 industrial chemicals in their body, including dozens linked to cancer and other health problems.

The EPA does not have the tools to address dangerous substances and even the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws to assure consumers that their products are safe.

His bill would would require safety testing of all industrial chemicals, and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order to get on or stay on the market.

The American Chemical Council (ACC) agrees that the TSCA needs updating to protect public health.  ACC principles for modernizing TSCA include:

  • Chemicals should be safe for their intended use;
  • EPA should prioritize chemicals for safe use determinations to focus on chemicals of highest concern;
  • The chemical industry should provide robust information in a transparent manner on the chemicals it produces; and
  • Companies and EPA should work together to enhance public access to chemical health and safety information.

While we can’t put a poison sticker on everything, we can ask to be given information about chemicals produced and put into our every day household items, we can ask our regulators to protect the public from harmful chemicals, and we can take it upon ourselves to be aware of what we put on or in our bodies.

I wouldn’t say that all chemicals are bad (in fact, I’m very happy to be sitting here drinking out of a plastic straw, brought to me through the wonders of chemistry) – but we don’t really know how toxic they may be.

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2 Responses to Toxic – Better living through chemistry?

  1. If a pregnant woman is exposed to bisphenol A (BPA), especially during the first trimester, her child may be at higher risk of wheezing early in life. This article on MedicalxPress.com discuses findings in a study presented today at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Denver.

  2. Lucy says:

    Every time when we get ill,We need to swallow a number of medicines.Definitely we don’t know how toxic they may be.Its shocking news for me that”companies making chemicals do not have to do any research”. I think there should be some rules and guidelines for drug manufacturers.

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