A little history on our chemical predicament: The EPA’s Toxic Substance and Control Act was enacted in 1976. At that time, 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered in with no testing. The Act also created a strange catch: there needs to be evidence of harm done in order for a manufacturer to provide information about their products. But how can you know if you don’t know?!?! Also, to make matters more complicated and socio-environmentally disturbing, there have been 20,000 chemicals introduced to American society since 1976. However, there is little or no oversight on all these chemicals. The process to get a chemical reviewed is so convoluted and so favoring of the chemical industries, only 200 of those chemicals have faced serious review. Of those substances reviewed, only 5 (5!) have been banned. Even asbestos – which is scientifically known to cause cancer – is not technically banned in the US. So if the current rules make it impossible to even ban a chemical known to cause cancer and physical harm, then what does this Act even do? Who do these laws protect if not the people? Is not human and environmental health more sacred and more worthy of protection than profits? [Read more in: Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel]
Why do we allow this allowance of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ for chemicals? We should be adopting a precautionary stance, where a new substance is tested and is has to be proven that it is NOT harmful before allowed in distribution. Europe has been better at this, yet, there is still more we can do to prevent these harmful substances from entering our earth’s systems.
For instance, even trying to trace and track one chemical like DEHP is near impossible. This chemical is found in shower curtains, vinyl, garden hoses, yoga mats, cables, wires, liners, rain-gear, floor tiles, blinds, cosmetics, packaging, etc etc….it is infuriating the amount of ways we come into contact with chemicals. And the human and environmental consequences are clear. DEHP has been found to disrupt testosterone levels which cause behavioral change and health changes in both human and animal species – especially in Western countries with this high exposure to chemicals that make up plastics. And that is just one chemical, one of the thousands that are out there.
Daily we are exposed to a whole cornucopia of chemicals, and we have virtually no idea how they all interact. In urban society, we are constantly under a barrage of chemicals whether we know it or not. What we eat, what we touch, the clothes we wear, the beds we sleep on, the appliances we use…it is scary how much of a chemical and plastics society we have become. Look around your immediate environs and try to count the things that have plastic in them, for instance. The business ‘right’ for these substances to continue should not outweigh the right of people and environment to be free from their constant assault. Unfortunately, we have not yet arrived at a time in society where the ethics of introducing new technology and new chemicals is forefront on most people’s minds. However, since these decisions shape our lives, it is crucial to start paying attention.
One solution is in green cellulose and bioplastics. Supporting R&D in this direction is the way we need to be going. For the time being, choose chemical free products, refuse plastics where you can, and help others understand the perils of all these chemicals. Many little steps in the right direction make one big step.