In 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed with the intention of keeping Americans safe from dangerous chemicals. Not only did the law lack teeth from the start, it hasn’t kept pace with the tens of thousands of new chemicals that have since flooded the market. The result? Americans have become guinea pigs for the chemical industry and science is revealing a host of health impacts from cancer to asthma.
Rachel’s Network set out to reinvigorate the chemical reform discussion by producing a short documentary with Earth Focus called UNSAFE: The Truth Behind Everyday Chemicals. Watch it now:
Here are five findings from the video that illustrate the urgent need for chemical reform:
- Smart shopping won’t protect us
Toxic chemicals are so ubiquitous in consumer products that it’s impossible to completely protect ourselves by making better choices at the store. From phthalates in medical equipment and flame retardants in furniture to lead in lipstick and BPA in tin cans, chemical companies have had free reign for so long that we come into contact with untested chemicals all the time, even if we try to avoid them. The only way to truly protect ourselves is by making sure these products don’t reach the market in the first place. “Shoppers should be able to go to the store without a chemistry degree and a magnifying glass,” says Julia Brody, Executive Director of the Silent Spring Institute.
- It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle
DDT – a chemical linked to breast cancer – has been banned for 40 years, but researchers are still finding traces of it in suburban homes today. Some chemicals can actually alter our genes and get passed down to future generations. The longer we wait to act, the more long-lived chemicals will build up in our environment.
- Babies and kids are most at risk
Because of their rapid development and sensitive organs, children and unborn babies are most susceptible to toxic chemicals. A study that looked at newborns’ cord blood found an average of 200 industrial chemicals. That means that we are giving our children a cocktail of pollutants before they are even born. No parent would knowingly expose their kids to this kind of risk, but because of lax regulations, we are.
- We could shift the burden of proof to companies
“The Toxic Substances Control Act – my joke is that its law that never lived up to its name,” says Andy Igrejas, Campaign Director at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. In TSCA, the Environmental Protection Agency must prove a chemical is unsafe before pulling it from the market. The burden of proof is on the regulators – chemicals are “innocent until proven guilty,” according to Celia Wexler of Union of Concerned Scientists.
The European Union has taken a different approach to chemical safety. EU laws use the precautionary principle as a basis for many environmental laws: shifting the burden of proof to the companies themselves, thereby keeping many chemicals from reaching the public. Their 2007 Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) law is much more effective at protecting consumers than TSCA.
- People are speaking up… but there’s a long way to go
There have been notable victories in the fight for chemical safety reform: states like Vermont and California are advancing their own, stricter, rules; companies like Johnson & Johnson are pulling the worst offenders from their personal care products because of consumer demand; and organizations like Environmental Working Group and Breast Cancer Fund are raising public awareness. But despite bi-partisan support, federal policy is stuck in Congressional purgatory.