Unregulated Chemicals: What Congress and Companies Are Rallying Against — and What it Means For You

Unregulated Chemicals: What Congress and Companies Are Rallying Against — and What it Means For You

Thousands and thousands of products on the market today are made from or with chemicals. Chemicals are somewhat omnipresent, and many pose no harm to consumers; in fact, everything from touch-screen smart phones to roadways to furniture to automobiles require chemicals to be made. These very items can make our lives easier, more comfortable and more convenient.

But with that comfort and convenience comes a cost. Children born in the United States today are likely to have hundreds of synthetic chemicals in their bodies at birth. A 2008/2009 report from the US Department of Health and Human Services posits that traces of almost 300 pollutants – like chemicals used in packaging fast food, flame retardants in household dust and pesticides – have been found in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.[1] [2]

Although the US passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, chemicals that go into manufacturing household items – from furniture to cleaning products – are still largely unregulated.

“People more readily equate pollution with large-scale contamination and environmental disasters, yet the products and activities that form the backdrop to our everyday lives — electronics, cleaners, beauty products, food packaging — are a significant source of daily personal chemical exposure that accumulates over time,” said sociologist Rebecca Gasior Altman, lead author of the study, “Pollution Comes Home and Gets Personal: Women’s Experience of Household Chemical Exposure.”[3]

Regarding her study, Dr. Altman goes on to say that pollution at home has been a “blind spot” for society. “The study documents that an important shift occurs in how people understand environmental pollution, its sources and possible solutions as they learn about chemicals from everyday products that are detectable in urine samples and the household dust collecting under the sofa.”[4]

Some large companies and retailers have decided to take matters into their own hands. A DuPont executive testified before Congress in 2010 that the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars reformulating products due to consumer pressure regarding certain chemicals. In 2013, Walmart announced its development of a sustainable chemistry policy, and would begin their own testing on household products. The objective of Walmart’s policy “is to help ensure that household cleaning, personal care, beauty and cosmetic products sold by Walmart will minimize hazards to people or the environment.”[5]

In early 2015, U.S. Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced major bipartisan legislation to protect Americans from toxic chemicals by enacting common-sense and necessary reforms to update the United States’ ineffective, outdated chemical regulatory program.[6]

“Americans are exposed to a toxic soup of more than 80,000 different chemicals, but we have no idea what the impact of those chemicals is on our bodies — or those of our children. Current law has failed to protect Americans from dangerous carcinogens like asbestos, and Congress can’t afford to stand on the sidelines any longer,” Udall said.[7]

While these efforts by politicians and corporations are ongoing, Americans are becoming more interested and proactive about steps they can take to keep their indoor environments clean yet safe at the same time. Natural cleaners and cleaning methods are on the rise: cleaning chores once accomplished using chemical cleaners can oftentimes be solved using safer substances like baking soda, lemon, or vinegar. Using natural methods when possible lowers the risk of exposure and drastically cuts down on the fumes that harsh chemical products can emit into the air.

The effects of off-gassing (the release of chemicals from items in our home) from things like paint, furniture, flooring and building materials can be felt by those with sensitivities, and can even have subtle effects on healthy individuals. Off-gassing can compromise indoor air quality and create problems for those with allergies, asthma or decreased/compromised immune systems. Proper ventilation and a keen eye (choosing low-VOC paints and ecologically responsible building materials) can go a long way to improving the breathing conditions in your environment. Air purifiers with HEPA filtration also reduce contaminants in the air, while others contain technology that can kill viruses, bacteria and pathogens in the air and on surfaces.




[1] http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf
[2] http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2015/04/law-protecting-american-consumers-toxic-chemicals-finally-going-be-updated/111244/
[3] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081121092451.htm
[4] Ibid
[5] https://az204679.vo.msecnd.net/media/documents/wmt-chemical-policy_130234693942816792.pdf
[6] http://www.vitter.senate.gov/newsroom/press/vitter-udall-introduce-landmark-legislation-to-protect-our-families-from-toxic-chemicals
[7] Ibid

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