I believe that it is time to urge our legislators to pass the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act.
We are clearly entering an era of governmental reform and it is essential that we elevate the visibility of this important Bill designed to protect our children.
We can work tirelessly to educate our communities about the toxic overload we believe our families suffer every day. But our growing base of knowledge has little impact if we continue living under the extraordinarily lax standards established by the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 .
Now considered one of the weakest environmental laws on the books, the Act “provides our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with authority to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures,” according the agency’s Web site.
However, what is not highlighted is that when the act was passed, the chemical industry successfully lobbied to grandfather approximately 62,000 chemicals that were already on the market from scrutiny.
General estimates are that between 80,000-100,000 chemicals are currently in use in the United States today. Given that so many slipped by the EPA’s laboratory to begin with, you can easily understand how little we know about the potential impact these products may have on our environmental and human health.
In addition, the cosmetics industry is regulated by legislation that has not been updated since 1938! Thanks again to decades of highly successful (and expensive) lobbying by powerful giants such as Revlon, Estee Lauder, Proctor & Gamble and countless others there are no safety tests required of this industry.
The FDA is not monitoring potential health effects of ingredients in cosmetics. And the labeling of these products can be extremely misleading. For example, consider how difficult it is to understand whether you are truly buying organic shampoo.
The following explanation of the FDA’s jurisdiction over cosmetics is quoted directly from their Web site:
“Does the FDA approve cosmetics before they go on the market?
FDA's legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives.
Who is responsible for substantiating the safety of cosmetics?
Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing.”
Even the safety testing criteria that cosmetics companies adhere to offer a further smokescreen to the consumer. Instead of researching the potential for endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity or DNA mutation, for example, manufacturers are primarily focused on whether a product may cause a rash or eye infection. Immediate, tangible symptoms are screened, whereas the longer-term issues are virtually ignored.
As author Stacy Malkan explains in her illuminating book, Not Just a Pretty Face, the industry is allowed to police itself through the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel, which is funded and managed by its own trade group, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA).
So, to be clear, in the United States you can dream up an idea for a fabulous new shampoo, hire a chemist to formulate it (using untested chemical ingredients, many of which have become industry standard for their lathering capability or economic efficiency), submit your new product to the FDA without fear of having it tested for toxicity to humans, put it in some sexy packaging and start selling it to children. No barriers to entry, especially after you join the CTFA!
These lax safety standards are not accepted in the European Union (EU) where lawmakers have been willing to accept the Precautionary Principle as a default to initiate protective measures for their 400 million citizens.
The EU and several other countries have established what they have labeled their “negative list” of more than 1,100 substances that cannot be used in products, forcing manufacturers to effectively create two “product lines, a hazard-free version for Europe and toxin-filled versions of the same products for the U.S. and developing countries,” according to Mark Shapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power.
In addition, the EU has instituted an ingredient-naming standard, which, if you to read labels as I obsessively as I do, you will appreciate.
It seems logical that if other world leaders are already committed to the environmental health of their citizens, the United States should fall in line with regulations designed for similar, if not more stringent protections.
Amongst the most vocal supporters of the Kids Safe Chemicals Act is the Environmental Working Group , whose 10 Americans presentation was one of the most compelling examples I have seen of how toxic our world has become. Our babies are born with pollution from our wombs, and quite possibly from those of our own mothers whose bodies endured greater exposure to powerful agents such as the incredibly persistent and harmful agent DDT for example.
When passed, this Bill, which requires that industrial chemicals be safe for infants, kids and other vulnerable groups, will begin to dismantle the poison mantle behind which companies like Dow, Dupont, Clorox, Avon and others are able to hide while pumping millions of gallons of toxic concoctions into our households, our schools and our children every day.
It is not okay with me that the age of puberty has fallen by 18 months during my lifetime. It is not okay with me that sperm counts have dropped in the United States by 53% in the last 50 years. It is not okay with me that 1 out of 150 American children is diagnosed with autism today.
It is not okay and we need to work hard to fix the root cause of these complex, expensive and heartbreaking conditions.
I have absolutely NO doubt that EVERY one of these statistics has a direct relationship to chemical exposures. It is up to us to take precaution, commit to the research and throw our elbows up to protect the most vulnerable members of our society from further harm.
I believe it is time to push HARD for reform and support the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. You can start by signing EWG's declaration urging our leaders in Washington to support this legislation. And please write to your Representatives and Senators asking them to include this initiative as a top priority.
Last year as the Earth Day activity at my daughter's school, more than 200 letters were written by teenage girls to our California leaders, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein, asking them to wield their protective powers and support this Bill. These young advocates received piles of letters in return, which provided them with the confidence and interest to raise their voices, even years before they are old enough to enter the voting booth.
Think of all the ways you could leverage your relationships to send a similar message to your Congressional leaders!
I believe that this legislation is the best chance we have at rewriting the next chapter of our country's environmental health legacy. It is not perfect, but it is definitely progress. At the very least, it gives me something to believe.