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Christopher Gavigan's picture

As parents, we spend a lot of time shopping for family essentials and a lot of time doing research to make sure the products we buy are the best for our kids. One key factor we all consider is safety – how does a car seat rank, is the SPF of this sunscreen high enough, will these outlet covers really stay in place – these are the types of questions running through our heads. For a growing population of parents, there’s a new question regarding safety – are the chemicals used to make this product safe for my baby? In my twenty years working with parents, when this issue comes up they frequently say “Everything I see on store shelves has to be safe – right?  Or “It must be tested for safety, by some government agency or the store couldn’t sell it.”

Sadly, this trust is misplaced.  While the U.S. government does require pretty thorough of testing for pharmaceuticals and ingredients in food (what goes IN our bodies), manufacturers are not required to test most of the ingredients in products like cosmetics and cleaners and household goods (what goes ON and AROUND us) before offering them for sale. As a result, the majority of the chemicals we’re exposed to every day have never been independently tested for safety. We are the guinea pigs and our babies are now born with over 200 of these industrial chemicals in their blood.

In fact, the law governing chemicals in consumer products, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), requires proof of “unreasonable” harm to human health or the environment before a manufacturer is required to submit safety tests or remove a chemical from its products. And proving “unreasonable” harm is so overwhelmingly difficult, ONLY 5 of the 85,000 industrial chemicals available for use today have been banned or restricted despite a growing body of science showing innumerable health risks. This “innocent until proven guilty” system ultimately places the burden on consumers to guard against these health risks – and that’s no easy task if you’re not a chemist or toxicologist. Clearly, this is a broken system.

TSCA became law back in 1976 and shockingly has not been amended since. Our understanding of toxic chemicals has grown by leaps and bounds since then, as has our exposure to chemicals as more and more new products come to market. Everything has changed, but TSCA has remained untouched – an antiquated law collecting more dust than safety data. The first significant changes to TSCA are imminent, with reform bills under consideration in both the House and Senate.  Right now is a critical moment for protecting our children’s health and our future.

The existing standards for what goes IN our bodies versus what goes ON and AROUND them has created a lot of consumer confusion.  And inspired a number of responses from manufacturers, my company included, who have committed to testing ingredients before including them in products like laundry detergent, shampoo and spray cleaners – products we use every day in our homes. But this is not enough.

Tens of millions of American children now face chronic diseases and illnesses – including cancer, autism, asthma, birth defects, ADD/ADHD, allergies, and learning/developmental disabilities. A growing body of research points to exposure to chemicals in everyday products as significant culprits in the increase in disease. We need a marketplace revolution to stop these trends, and to ensure that healthy and safe choices are accessible to all families. And this isn’t going to happen voluntarily. We need laws that protect our children, not industry’s bottom line.

Other countries have already adopted strong chemical regulations. In Europe, chemical safety rules put the burden of proof on chemical companies to show that their products are safe before they are allowed to sell them. It’s just common sense! This helps keep dangerous chemicals out of everyday products, and out of our air, water and food.

Here in the U.S., chemical companies are doing everything they can to undermine similar regulations that would require products to be tested for safety before going on sale. Their favored approach would allow for a much riskier “sell chemicals first, test them later” policy that can’t even be considered a bandage for the problem. It’s a laughable proposal.

They are also lobbying to eliminate vital state laws that are working to protect children and families from the toxic health threats posed by chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics, formaldehyde in flooring, arsenic in rice and hundreds of other chemical hazards.

As if all that were not bad enough, under the reforms currently advocated by the chemical industry government incentives to create greener alternatives to toxic materials may flounder while chemical companies would be able to continue selling cheap, risky products for years before new regulations can be adopted under the byzantine structure that would ensue under their proposal. New chemical safety rules should make it easier for all companies to find safer raw materials, yet their proposal could actually make things worse.

It would be tragic if Congress were to adopt “new” chemical safety rules that are a giant leap backwards in protecting children and families from toxic threats.

Thanks to consumer demand, the market for safer products is among the fastest growing segments in today’s economy. But there are still too many people who cannot afford the often more expensive, safer alternatives.  Protection from harmful chemicals should not be based on economic class, but should be a health right for all Americans. If you agree, please join the movement for smart reform. Together, we can create greater awareness for this issue and ultimately inspire stronger chemical testing regulations that prioritize human health and safety.  

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