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Toxic Chemicals in the Everyday Environment—Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Jun. 20, 2014|633 views
stock footage female chemist looking at test tubes with chemicals in laboratory Spread

The American Academy of Pediatricians issued a policy statement in 2011, aimed at encouraging the federal government to overhaul certain provisions of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. The academy was troubled by the issue of environmental toxins—ranging from bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging, and phthalates in flexible plastics, to triclosan in soaps, and PBDE flame retardants in furniture and other products.

The Toxic Substances Control Act empowers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor, test, and regulate or restrict certain chemicals. Foods, drugs, and pesticides were excluded from the Act. Those substances are supposed to be regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The pediatrician's statement was sobering. It read, in part, "[The Toxic Substances Control Act] is widely recognized to have been ineffective in protecting children, pregnant women, and the general population from hazardous chemicals in the marketplace." The statement went on to admonish EPA's apparent lack of oversight, noting that in the 35-year history of the act, only five chemicals or chemical classes—out of tens of thousands of commercial chemicals—have ever been regulated.

Some people think the government imposes too many regulations. But when it comes to the chemical industry, this does not appear to be the case. Not by a long shot. Voluntary programs for self-monitoring and self-correction have proven inadequate, the American Academy of Pediatricians insisted, and chemical-management policy "needs to be rewritten." The official statement signaled physicians' growing frustration over potentially harmful substances that have recently been revealed to be widespread in our homes, bodies, and environment. Many of these chemicals were originally touted as inert, harmless, and safe. But new information reveals they're often far from benign.

For instance, phthalates are chemicals added to plastics to make them flexible. They were once believed to be completely inert. But it's obvious now that these chemicals readily leach from plastics and into foods, drinks, and the environment. I find it more than a little troubling that the presence of phthalates has been documented in the blood of about 90% of Americans.

Phthalates are present in virtually all kinds of plastic products: vinyl blood collection/storage bags, children's toys, women's cosmetics, hair sprays, nail polishes and name it. Alarmingly, a 2003 study concluded that phthalates were not only present in the bodies of a majority of Americans, but the levels of these foreign chemicals were highest among women of childbearing age; the most vulnerable group of all.

If that doesn't concern you, consider this: These chemicals have been implicated in the obesity epidemic. Some scientists have taken to calling them "obesogens," meaning phthalates are obesity-causing substances. According to this emerging theory, the obesity epidemic may be linked to the widespread presence of obesogenic chemicals, including phthalates.

What are some things you have done to clean up your household environment? Please share your concerns below...

Tags:  chemicals beware, health tips