Recently we've heard about toxic chemicals invading our consumer products, like baby bottles, sippy cups, plastics and rubber duckies. This has a lot of people asking the question: why are these chemicals in our products in the first place?
Unfortunately, the majority of the products found in our local retailer are untested and unregulated. A broken federal chemical policy system has led to our involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals, and they are ending up in places they don’t belong: our bodies, our ecosystems and our communities.
Where are these toxic chemicals found? In most of our daily products, including: shampoo, cosmetics, children's toys and teething rings, cleaning products, pesticides, moisturizers, plastics and more.
What does this mean for public health?
Toxic chemicals affect all areas of our lives and compromise public health. Of the 82,000+ synthetic chemicals used in U.S consumer goods, less than 200 have ever been tested for health effects. Overwhelming peer reviewed research shows that low dose exposure to some of these chemicals is compromising our health, potentially adding to the increase rates in learning and developmental disabilities, breast and prostate cancer, infertility, the early onset of puberty and more. Unfortunately, this low dose exposure is hurting those most vulnerable among us, our children.
How do chemicals threaten our Environment?
In the same way that exposure to these chemicals adversely affects public health, the chemicals also end up in our landfills and waste water stream, effecting our local ecosystems. Take for example, shampoo that contains the toxic chemical phthalates. Our bodies are exposed to phthalates, a hormone disrupting chemical. After the shampoo suds go down the drain, they end up in our water stream, having the same hormone disrupting effect on local fish, ecosystems and wildlife. Another example can be seen with the costly 3M clean up of the PFC spill in the east metro. Water tests are finding PFCs in our local water supplies, lakes, streams, wildlife etc.
How does this affect our Communities?
In addition to compromising health and our environment, toxic chemicals adversely affect our communities, especially communities of color. Workers in chemical and manufacturing plants are disproportionatly people of color and low income families. In addition, “fence line communities”, neighborhoods that surround these factories are more often than not, communities of color. The issue of social and racial justice is inherent to our chemical exposures and can be seen on several levels. Indigenous communities are at a higher risk for toxic chemicals due to high levels of fish consumption. Another example can be seen in African American girls. A lot of personal care products used by African American women (hair straighteners, skin lightning creams etc.) are laden with toxic chemicals, resulting in a higher “body burden”, or chemicals in our bodies, than in their white counterparts.
Why are we facing these issues?
Current state and federal policies are failing to protect us in four different ways:
#1 Most chemicals are not required to be adequately tested for safety before use.
#2 The government usually takes action only after harm is proven and widespread
#3 Certain levels of harm are accepted and allowed by government authorities
#4 Power special interests obstruct government action to protect our health.
The Good News
The good news is that safer chemicals and products are on the market today. States are taking the lead where the federal government has fallen behind and have dramatically moved markets, shifted retailers purchasing preferences and spurred federal attention to the issue. We don’t need to live in a toxic world and have the opportunity to raise our families in a safe environment that doesn’t compromise our health, environment or local communities. Safe products exist and we can do something about it!