Do you know how many chemicals you come in contact with on a daily basis? From non-stick pans to spill-resistant carpets, and waterproof clothing these substances seem ingenious. However, the dark side of this convenience was the subtle infiltration of these chemicals into the bodies of millions of Americans. One such chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), gained notoriety for its toxicity and eventual removal from consumer goods in 2015. But PFOA is just one example of the many modern-day chemicals that have found their way into the bodies of the majority of Americans, raising concerns about their health effects.
Research has shown that a significant portion of the American population carries traces of various chemicals in their bodies, regardless of where they live. Concurrently, there has been an increase in health issues ranging from autoimmune diseases to developmental disorders like autism and some cancers. Scientists are beginning to draw connections between these phenomena, suggesting that common commercial chemicals could be contributing to these health risks. However, the hidden nature of these chemicals makes it challenging for both the public and lawmakers to grasp the extent of the problem.
One of the critical issues contributing to this problem is the lack of comprehensive toxicity testing for chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees a staggering 86,000 consumer chemicals, yet the majority of them have never undergone rigorous testing. The EPA acknowledges this issue but argues that far fewer than 86,000 chemicals are still in use and claims to have made progress in addressing risks in recent years. However, experts argue that regulatory flaws persist, leaving the EPA perpetually playing catch-up when it comes to assessing chemical safety.
Industry interests have played a significant role in this regulatory gap. The American Chemistry Council, representing the chemical industry, insists that chemicals in commerce are subject to stringent government oversight. Yet, cases like PFOA demonstrate how chemicals can go untested and cause harm even after their dangers are identified. The phaseout of PFOA began in the early 2000s but remains in the bodies of over 90% of Americans today.
The dangers of chemical exposure extend beyond PFOA. For example, research has found that premature babies in intensive care units have higher levels of plastics chemicals called phthalates in their bodies, with potential impacts on neurobehavioral development. Even healthy children face risks from plastics chemicals commonly found in baby bottles. Furthermore, emerging research in epigenetics suggests that chemical harm may be inherited through generations, even if the exact mechanisms are not fully understood.
A significant contributor to this regulatory gap is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), one of the last major pieces of federal legislation from the environmental era of the 1960s and 70s. While intended to enable the EPA to collect information on chemicals and ban toxic ones, TSCA’s flaws, including the grandfathering of existing chemicals, weakened its effectiveness. In the 1980s, the EPA’s attempt to ban asbestos, a known carcinogen, was thwarted by a court decision, further weakening TSCA’s power.
In 2016, the Lautenberg Act overhauled TSCA, granting the EPA new authority to review old and new chemicals. The EPA has since announced plans to fully ban asbestos and regulate other toxic substances. However, experts are cautious in assessing the significance of these reforms and remain concerned about the influence of industry interests.
The hidden dangers of everyday chemicals in the United States pose a significant public health concern. While regulatory efforts are underway to address these issues, challenges persist, and the true extent of the harm remains unclear. As research continues to uncover the links between common chemicals and health risks, it becomes increasingly crucial for lawmakers, industry stakeholders, and the public to prioritize the safety of chemicals in consumer products and work collectively to minimize the unseen perils lurking in our daily lives.
Sign this petition to outlaw forever chemicals in the United States!
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