Body Burdens and the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act

toxic chemicalsLike many parents, in 2005 I was horrified to hear of the cord blood research that uncovered over 200 pollutants already present in babies' bodies at birth. Even more disturbing were the possible health implications of those chemicals:

"Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. The dangers of pre- or post-natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins have never been studied." - Environmental Working Group

The knowledge of this chemical "body burden" hit particularly hard in my house, where my older daughter had been struggling with the environmental triggers of her persistent asthma since she was a baby. In fact, it was her health problems that motivated me to reduce my whole household's exposure to factory farmed-food and commercial cleaning products and switch to products like BPA-free stainless steel water bottles.

On a broader scale, though, is the opportunity to reduce the presence of harmful industrial chemicals in the United States in the first place, by supporting the proposed amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Environmental Working Group is campaigning hard for the act, which would completely transform the way new industrial chemicals enter the market and require regulation for the ones already there.

The number-one problem with TSCA is that it was set way back in 1976 and allowed for over 62,000 existing chemicals to stay in production despite lack of evidence on safety and human health. After decades of advancements in manufacturing and the toxic materials associated with that progress, TSCA still stands as originally written even though the EPA now recognizes approximately 82,000 chemicals on the U.S. market. And we don't know the effects on human health of all-or even most-of them.

The Center for Democracy & Technology's Congressional research website provides access to reports already made public. On its summary of the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, House bill H.R. 6100, the following passage explains how TSCA has not kept pace with scientific research:

"Recent changes in science and technology pose challenges to EPA implementation of TSCA. For example, scientists now know that the timing and duration of exposure to a chemical can determine its effects, as can the age, gender, and heritable traits of people who are exposed. Biotechnology and nanotechnology have created genetically modified organisms and nanomaterials, respectively, which EPA must categorize as "existing" or "new" and manage as "chemical substances" under TSCA." - Open CRS

When the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional watchdog, recommended amending the TSCA last year, it outlined the very real problem of relying on health data from the very companies that produce these chemicals, particularly if that research is voluntary rather than mandated. You can download the entire report in this pdf or read the summary. Here's an excerpt:

"While TSCA does not require companies to develop information on chemicals before they enter commerce (new chemicals), companies are required to provide EPA any information that may already exist on a chemical's impact on human health or the environment. Companies do not have to develop information on the health or environmental impacts of chemicals already in commerce (existing chemicals) unless EPA formally promulgates a rule requiring them to do so. Partly because of the resources and difficulties the agency faces in order to require testing to develop information on existing chemicals, EPA has moved toward using voluntary programs as an alternative means of gathering information from chemical companies in order to assess and control the chemicals under TSCA. While these programs are noteworthy, data collection has been slow in some cases, and it is unclear if the programs will provide EPA enough information to identify and control chemical risks." - U.S. GAO

With so much stiff language to chew on, here's a primer of three major components of the Kid-Safe Chemical Act:

1. New and existing, untested chemicals would have to be tested and proven safe for children and sensitive populations before they're sold.

2. There would be better, more frequent monitoring of chemical levels in people, with a focus on reviewing the chemicals that already show up in human testing first.

3. EPA would have the power to require more health and safety information and testing from companies.

You can help the Environmental Working Group's campaign to get the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act passed through several avenues. First, add your name to the Declaration. If you run an organization, consider joining with 28 other groups, including AllergyKids, the National Autism Association, and Citizens for Environmental Justice, and signing  EWG's letter of support. Finally, spread the word by linking to or emailing this post, passing along EWG's Kid-Safe Materials page, and/or blogging about the body burden and TSCA reform yourself.

Because kids and chemicals just don't go together.

Further Reading:

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  • Posted on Nov. 29, 2008. Listed in:

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