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Toxins Gone Wild: Senate Hears Evidence on Everyday Chemicals

By Heather Turgeon |

Senate subcommittee chemical exposure

No safety data on most chemicals

There are approximately 84,000 chemicals on the market today (many that we come into daily contact with), but only 1 percent have been tested for safety, a New Jersey Senator told the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health yesterday.

The subcommittee is talking about accumulating evidence that says we are exposed to potential toxins every day that affect our children, even before they are born (growing data suggests concern for chemicals that make their way into the womb from mom’s exposure).

Testing by researchers like Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, has shown that many concerning chemicals, for example, air pollutants and pesticides, show up in a baby’s uterine environment.

An EPA administrator told the hearing she was concerned that children born today are exposed to many more chemicals than any generation before them.

And CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta told the subcommittee he was surprised to find (as research for a special on “Toxic America”) that only 200 chemicals in everyday use have undergone testing supposedly required by the EPA.

So what has been proposed as a fix?

The Democratic senator from New Jersey has proposed legislation to require chemical manufacturers to provide safety data on their products before they go to market. Right now, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 is too lax, he says, and it allows chemicals through — only heavy testing later on can result in a ban on a particular chemical (only 5 have been banned in the last 34 years).

It’s really hard to show conclusively that a chemical is bad, because chemical exposure in our lives is so complex and hard to tease apart. But shifting the burden of proof to showing a chemical’s safety before it goes to market seems like a good idea to me. Once it’s out there, it’s really hard to take back.

Image: flickr/clean wal-mart

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Toxins Gone Wild: Senate Hears Evidence on Everyday Chemicals

  1. bob says:

    There you go, imagining human safety could possibly outweigh corporate profits in the end.

  2. LogicalMama says:

    Right, Bob, because where would all the cancer and other diseases/disorders go? And what would happen to the profits of the doctors, hospitals, drug and medical equipment companies?!
    Dishwashing detergents pulled out a harsh chemical ingredient and now everyone is complaining that their dishes aren’t clean enough or that there is a residue! WTF?! I’ve been using phosphate free soap for years and my dishes are fine! But I guess my priorities are screwed up b/c I’d rather have a healthier lifestyle (and less impact on the Earth) than sparkling plates and glasses!

  3. bob says:

    Don’t forget how much the testing would eat into chemical companies’ and manufacturers’ profits — which that they depend on to pay their lobbyists and donate to legislators’ political campaigns so they can continue poisoning us.

  4. Max says:

    The potential for TSCA reform is quite exciting, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice millions of animals (for toxicity testing) in the name of better protection for human health and the environment. The revised bill needs to mandate and create market incentives to use nonanimal methods and tests.

    I agree that we should use the latest science to assess chemicals. Instead of poisoning animals and attempting to apply that data to humans — which hasn’t worked out so far — we need to make sure a reformed TSCA relies on modern human cell and computer-based methods that provide more accurate data on how a chemical acts on cells and what the impact on human health may be.

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