June 15, 2010

"Better living through chemistry?"

Really? I think the green jury is still out.

"Better Living Through Chemistry" is a variant of the DuPont company's advertising slogan, "Better Things for Better Living...Through Chemistry." But today, we now ask “Is it worth the risk?” I’m not talking about  the questionable safety of the chemicals used to break up the oil spill in the gulf, although I certainly could.

I’m referring to the plethora of chemicals and toxic stuff in most of today’s foods and household products. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but we most likely have traces of more than 200 chemicals in us right now, and we have no idea how they interact or how much we absorb over the long haul. Some stay inside us for a short time and others are cumulative. Some folks have already learned that they suffer from "Multiple Chemical Sensitivities" (MCS) or are very sensitive to a lot of chemicals such as those in perfumes.

Can you avoid them? An alphabet soup of chemicals, many of which did not exist 50 years ago, is present in almost every room of our homes and in our bodies. BPA from those nifty insulating plastic tumblers; PFOA in those handy nonstick pans; BHA to preserve food; and PBDE fire retardant join the better known phthalates in Rubber Duckies, formaldehyde, and asbestos. The EPA has an interesting term, “chemicals of concern,” for these. I’d prefer oversight and regulation to mere concern.

As part of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s commitment to increase public access to information on chemicals, the EPA added more than 6,300 chemicals and 3,800 chemical facilities regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to a public database called Envirofacts in May 2010.

The Envirofacts database is EPA’s “single point of access on the Internet for information about environmental activities that may affect air, water and land in the U.S and provides tools for analyzing the data. It includes facility name and address information, aerial image of the facility and surrounding area, map location of the facility, and links to other EPA information on the facility, such as EPA’s inspection and compliance reports.” Check out Envirofacts at http://www.epa.gov/enviro/index.html

Testing toxic ABCs? The scariest thing is that the EPA has tested only about 200 of the 83,000+ chemicals out there, and when it is done, it’s usually “short term.” They are presumed safe unless proven otherwise—with information provided by the manufacturer. That’s a big leap of faith. Setting safe standards—and then enforcing them—remains a big challenge. Sound familiar?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been busy lately also with the toxic metal cadmium, as McDonalds recalled 12 million American-made Shrek glasses. Cadmium is linked to cancer in humans, as well as kidney problems and soft bones.

The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) doesn’t have really big enforcement teeth. Even if Senator Lautenberg’s “Safe Chemicals Act” passes in Congress, the EPA has its hand full right now with the spill.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO AVOID THESE CHEMICALS? The Environmental Working Group has these tips to help you (and your children) avoid some of these chemicals.