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