by Abby King, NRCM Toxics Policy Advocate
We are all immersed in a toxic soup where we live, work, eat and play. The cumulative effect of these toxic chemicals on us, and on the plants and animals that share our planet, is huge.
Think of a day in the life of a typical American:
You wake up in the morning on a mattress that is slowly emitting flame retardants, which are known toxic chemicals that can permanently damage your brain and reproductive system and cause learning disabilities in children.
After rolling out of bed, you take a shower with soap containing an array of chemicals called “parabens” that cause developmental and reproductive problems. Parabens are the most widely used preservative in personal care products. Six different parabens have been found in biopsy samples from breast tumors (source: Darbre PD, Alijarrah A, Miller WR, et al. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol, 24:5-13).
Your shower curtain could be made from poly-vinyl chloride, or “PVC.” PVC pollutes the air in your home with as many as 100 toxic chemicals associated with adverse health effects (source: http://watoxics.org).
Those chemicals may cause cancer, irritate your lungs, damage your central nervous system, liver and kidneys, and cause nausea, headaches and loss of coordination.
Time for breakfast. Perhaps you’ll fry an egg in a Teflon pan. But just because you bought that pan at the store doesn’t mean the manufacturer or the government has ensured the chemicals in that product are safe for you or your family.
Chemicals in the Teflon family, called PFCs, are ubiquitous. The EPA says they present “persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree.” They are carcinogenic, damage the liver and other organs, cause immune disruption, endocrine effects, reproductive harm and developmental defects. PFCs do not break down in the environment and they build up in wildlife (source: U.S. CDC, www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/pdf/PFCs_FactSheet.pdf).
So you’ve just finished breakfast and you have already been exposed to hundreds of synthetic chemicals. They are everywhere. You can’t shop your way out of this mess.
These toxins are in the plastics that carry your lunch, the couch you sit on at home and the car you drive to get to work.
Chemical industry lobbyists may claim your exposure to each of these chemicals is no problem, but the science is not on their side. Think about the cumulative impact of this stew of chemicals mixed up in our bodies for decades.
No one knows how dangerous this toxic soup might be because manufacturers don’t have to prove their products are safe â alone or mixed with other chemicals we encounter daily â before they’re allowed on the market.
The good news is people in Maine and around the country are beginning to realize we can’t continue to let manufacturers create new chemicals and add them to all kinds of products without knowing their effects, and expect everything to be OK.
Fortunately, Maine legislators, past and present, have stood up to establish safer chemicals policies. Maine has a landmark chemical law, called the Kid-Safe Products Act, that requires the state to use sound science to evaluate the most dangerous toxic chemicals, identify what products they are in and what alternatives are safer, and phase out the very worst chemicals from products that are on the shelf today.
We have come a long way, and we still have a long way to go.
Our law is working, but no more action on new chemicals is likely without some necessary changes. Sen. Seth Goodall’s bill, “An Act To Further Strengthen Protection of Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals,” spells progress. It will provide Maine people with information about what products contain the very worst chemicals identified by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
It will also require the DEP to determine which of these toxic chemicals to begin to phase out of products.
And, lastly, it will protect children over the age of three, pregnant and nursing mothers, and others from toxins in food packaging.
I hope lawmakers in Augusta will do everything they can to ensure a sweeping, bipartisan victory for these common-sense improvements, as they did for similar efforts in 2008 and 2011.
Sen. Goodall’s bill, LD 1181, is a win-win that will save the state millions of dollars on health and special education costs, and protect the health of Maine people and our environment.
Abigail King is the toxics policy advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.