Are you aware that Americans are regularly exposed to toxic chemicals in electronic waste, cosmetics, plastics, toys, foods, and other places? These toxic chemicals show up in our blood and the blood of even our youngest children. Did you know that these toxic chemicals can be removed from most of the products mentioned above, and have been removed with no economic consequences for all the consumers in the European Union (EU), about 500,000,000 people?
Yet those toxic materials and products are routinely shipped to Americans. Why? We are not protected by legislation that would ban these chemicals, while millions of people in other countries are. Part of the reason for that is that our government protects the interests of the corportation, while countries in the EU protect the interests of their citizens. And why is that, you ask again? Because countries in the EU are paying for the health care of their citizens. But in the U.S., you pay for your health care—if you're lucky enough to afford health care—to a corporation. The U.S. government doesn't take as much interest in keeping you healthy as they do in countries where there is government financed universal health care.
Much of this information has been publicized in bits and pieces in the last few years. But a new book was just released that puts it all together in one place. The books is Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power by Mark Shapiro (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).
I first heard about this book from the NPR program Fresh Air. The program is an interview with author Mark Shapiro by Fresh Air host Terry Gross. I urge you, urge you, urge you to take the time to listen to this interview. Here's NPR's description of the interview:
Fresh Air from WHYY, November 26, 2007 · Investigative reporter Mark Schapiro explains in a new book that toxic chemicals exist in many of the products we handle every day — agents that can cause cancer, genetic damage and birth defects, lacing everything from our gadgets to our toys to our beauty products.
And unlike the European Union, the U.S. doesn't require businesses to minimize them — or even to list them, so consumers can evaluate the risks. Schapiro argues that that policy isn't just bad for public health: In an increasingly green economy, he says, American businesses stand to get shut out of a huge market.
Schapiro, editorial director of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, has written for Harper's, The Nation, Mother Jones and The Atlantic Monthly. His book is called Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products, and What's at Stake for American Power.
I followed the link to Shapiro's project site for the book at the Center for Inversigative Reporting. Resources here include an article about how the US is losing ground to the EU, a reprint from The Nation about toxic toys, a reprint from an article in Harper's showing how toxic chemicals end up in our blood and in our children's blood, and a world map of the countries that are leading the way in protecting their citizens from these toxins. There's a link to Skin Deep a cosmetics database that gives you the information about what is actually in cosmetics. The FDA does not consider this information to be needed by American consumers, so you can't find it reading the product labels.
Actually, the title of this post is a bald-faced lie. OF COURSE I am going to get my children things for Christmas. I just don’t know what I can get them anymore.
Maybe it’s because I live in a media-sheltered existence, but up until now I really knew very little about the toxicity of stuff we buy. What I don’t know could still fill volumes, but now I am a little more informed. I was just listening to a podcast of Fresh Air, featuring author Mark Shapiro who has just published his book Exposed - the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products. I am not surprised to learn (though I’m still upset and alarmed nonetheless) that products made for the USA’s consumption are toxic as heck, but in Europe they actually regulate what stuff can be introduced into their countries; from toys to cosmetics. By contrast, we yokels here in the USA are painting our faces with toxic chemicals, and putting toxic binkies and teethers in the mouths of our babes.
Shapiro explains that the European Union bases regulations on “an accumulation of evidence” that suggests substantial harm, and pulls products on that basis quickly. The USA instead looks for total absolute proof of harm before doing anything to regulate consumer goods. It’s a cost-benefit analysis: The cost to industry is weighed against the benefit to society. hmmm…. a business might lose some profit, while consumers might lose their lives to cancer, lose their pregnancies to toxic chemicals that compromise fertility, and have babies suffer from birth defects, childhood disease, and more. Gee, that bottom line really needs someone to stand up for it!
What are the toxic chemicals that you should be concerned about? Lead, for example, could well be in your favorite shade of lipstick. Lead poisoning is a serious threat– lead is a dangerous poison if you eat it. Who thought it should be in lipstick? The mind boggles.
Pann did a good job summarizing the entire interview in the remainder of the post quoted above.
Part of the book is about the fact that the U.S. is losing standing, economic clout, and respect because of the lack of regulation about toxins in our consumer goods. Laura Orr, blogging at Oregon Legal Research, commented in "Are EU Children Safer/Healthier than US Children?" about that part of the Fresh Air interview.
The whole interview was interesting (or possibly terrifying for parents), but what may have surprised many was when Shapiro pointed out that the EU is now a bigger consumer market than the US and as a consequence has more political (social and business) clout than the US in China and elsewhere in the world. And, that people who live under EU laws [. . .] have greater consumer protections than we do in the US. Toys are safer and food is safer. It was only partly in jest that Shapiro recommended that parents buy “plastic” toys abroad rather than in the US (one among many reasons is that phthalates have been banned in the EU countries but not in the US and China makes phthalate-free plastics for the EU).
A. Citizen at Drinking Liberally started off a discussion of the book with a quiz in Exposed Part I: Don't worry your government is watching . . . .
Let's start with a short quiz. Oh, come on it's not going to hurt ya! Actually, some of this stuff might keep you healthy. Something of increasing importance thanks to the Democrats failure, so far, to do anything about universal healthcare.
Here we go:
Question One: What U.S. government agency regulated the ingredients in men and women's makeup?
Question Two: Where can you find the ingredients used in the manufacture of men and women's makeup?
Question Three: Blood testing of women who've lived in the EU for their whole life revealed how many chemicals, not part of the human body's functioning, present in studies conducted in 2005 by the World Wildlife Foundation?
Find the answers here.
The state of California is trying to influence the U.S. government to take some action to protect Americans by going ahead with its own requirement to ban toxins from consumer products beginning in 2009. A blogger at the California National Organization for Women, Mandy Benson, pointed out a notion that is familiar to readers of In Women We Trust and Big Green Purse:
I’ll be buying Mark Shapiro’s book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power at my local bookstore today.
What Shapiro doesn’t seem to talk about, is how women spend 86% of point of sale dollars, and if we chose to purchase only items upholding EU standards, we could change the US marketplace in an instant!
I hope the state of California succeeds in this—it would help us all. But California recently tried to create change by upping the gas mileage requirements on cars sold in the state and that was shot down by—I'm sure you know this—corporate influence. I'm rooting for California on this one, anyway.
What can you do? Read the book. Find ways to protect yourself and your children from the toxins the government doesn't see fit to regulate. If you're a book blogger, how about reviewing the book? If you're a book club member, how about suggesting the book for discussion? Write to your Senators and Representatives. What would you like to see done about this?
Phthalate-containing soft PVC toys and childcare articles summarizes the EU legislation
Trouble in Toyland from 2002 in NY state
Phthalates.org The Industry Position