Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products: Find Out What's in the Stuff You Use
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Guess how I spent my summer? Testing over 900 everyday consumer products to find out what hazardous chemicals they might contain. Our team tested everything from pet collars and chew toys, to women's handbags, sedans and SUVs. Yet, despite all of the attention in 2008 to lead in toys, we are still universally finding elevated levels of lead, mercury, arsenic and other chemicals that can be hazards to human health, especially for children and pets.
At our new website, HealthyStuff.org, consumers can find over 15,000 test results on over 5,000 common items including pet products, back-to-school items, children's toys, and the latest on cars and children's car seats.
What does all of this test data tell us? Hazardous chemicals are still far too commonplace in everyday consumer products. One quarter of all pet products had detectable levels of lead, including seven percent with levels higher than 300 ppm - the current Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard for lead in children's products. Sixty-four percent (64%) of the plastic women's handbags contained lead over 300 ppm. No matter how selective consumers are, they are likely to be faced with these unnecessary hazards in their homes, offices and vehicles.
The well-publicized and oft-criticized CPSC reforms of 2008 were clumsily implemented, but did put in place critical protections against hazardous chemicals in children's products. But most products, including pet products and women's handbags are not regulated by the CPSC. What's more, the CPSC only regulates less than ten chemicals in children's products; there's no system in place to adequately deal with the thousands of other chemicals on the market or provide incentives for companies to develop safer chemicals.
So why will this year's reform - the 2009 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) -- be different from the 2008 CPSC reform? The TSCA reform package being introduced is partly based on a real-world tested regulatory system from Europe known as REACH. The REACH-type regulation has already been put through a "trial by fire," which has not uncovered unintended consequences. TSCA reform package also shifts the burden upstream to chemical manufacturers, not chemical users like product manufacturers and retailers, to develop hazard information of chemicals. Overall, this system of regulating at the chemical manufacturer level is significantly more efficient and cost-effective than an attempt to regulate hundreds of individual product or component manufacturers.
Ultimately, the TSCA reform package addresses the root problem in a common sense way by phasing out the chemicals we know are toxic, requiring chemical manufactures to provide chemical hazard information and promoting the use and development of safer chemical alternatives.
To date, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only required testing on about 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been on the market since 1976. Meanwhile, incidences of asthma, diabetes, childhood cancers, infertility, and learning and behavioral problems--conditions that have been linked to environmental exposures--have risen. Clearly, the law is not working as intended. The government has little authority to protect people from hazardous chemicals.
Right now, we have a tremendous opportunity for positive change as Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Bobby Rush will soon be introducing new bills to reform the outdated, toothless TSCA of 1976, that we currently use to regulate chemicals. If we strengthen our chemical laws, not only will safer chemicals support healthier families, but the "Made in the USA" label on our products will be a guarantee--not a warning! This is not only about our health, safety and the environment, but also about our prosperity.
Jeff Gearhart is Research Director for HealthyStuff.org.