By: Jen Blackstock
We all know that certain chemicals in everyday products are harmful: mercury and lead, just to name a couple. But how harmful, and what can we do about it?
A landmark new bill has been introduced in Congress that addresses toxins in products that most Americans use every day, from shampoo to toilet cleaners. The bill was introduced in April by Senator Frank R Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health. It is an overhaul of the “Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976″ (TSCA), an antiquated law that in its current state leaves most Americans at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.
Senator Lautenberg states: “America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken. Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals, and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe.” This Act will “empower EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals.”
Momentum is also building to make companies more accountable for the chemicals that they put in their products. More studies are popping up linking these chemicals to certain health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, reproductive problems… the list goes on.
One such chemical that has gained extensive media coverage is BPA, or bisphenol A, a chemical found in hard, clear plastics and most cans containing foods or beverages. Media outlets extensively reported on the effects of BPA in baby bottles. But the chemical has proven harmful to adults as well. A study of more than 1,400 people ages 18 to 74 “found that those with the largest amount of BPA in their urine had nearly three times the risk of heart disease and more than twice the risk of diabetes as those who had the lowest levels.” In addition, scientists found that BPA levels that are only one-fifth the “safe” dose established by the FDA trigger an alarming release of insulin in the pancreatic cells of mice. Higher levels lead to pre-diabetes or insulin resistance, says Frederick vom Saal, a biologist at the University of Missouri. BPA also suppresses the release of a hormone from fat cells that normally protects against diabetes and heart disease.
And that is just one example. There is now a movement to make the public aware of what they are consuming and the potential effects on their health. Sites such as www.healthystuff.org and www.saferchemicals.org have gained in popularity. Consumers are beginning to boycott products with chemicals such as BPA, which has led to a large shift in some manufacturers’ practices and products. Even CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta has joined the discussion in Toxic America, investigating some of the toxins that companies are releasing into our environment while producing these products, which in turn affect us as well.
Until now, the government has turned an almost blind eye, using decades-old research to determine “safe” levels of toxins in products. The introduction of this bill brings hope to many who have been on the crusade to see practice changed. Says healthystuff.org, “These reforms would phase out the most dangerous chemicals from the manufacturing process; require industry to take responsibility for the safety of their products; and use the best science to protect vulnerable groups.”
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