What's at Stake
Our Future at Risk
Chronic disease and life-long health disorders pose a critical challenge to our nation. Diseases such as cancer, infertility, diabetes, autism, asthma and diabetes create a multibillion-dollar burden on our economy--and rates of disease are on the rise. From genetics to lifestyle, some risk factors are preventable and some are not. If we fail to address the preventable exposure to untested and toxic chemicals among these risk factors, we miss an opportunity to prevent disease and undermine efforts to create a healthy future.
Every American—even before birth—is contaminated with some combination of several hundred chemicals found in everyday consumer products. Some chemicals, such as PCBs and heavy metals, persist and accumulate in the environment and in our bodies. Others, such as flame retardants, are used so widely that they are found regularly in household dust, in our bodies, and as far away as polar bears in the Arctic. We know that these chemicals can be released from consumer products. But because manufacturers are not required to disclose their use of these chemicals, scientists and health researchers can’t say for certain when, how, and how much people are exposed
Links to Disease
While many chemicals in the marketplace are untested, hundreds of others have been shown in laboratory studies to be linked to cancer, neurological disorders, endocrine disruption and other toxicity. Current science suggests that infants and children are especially vulnerable to these exposures as their brains and bodies develop. Some early chemical exposures, even in very small doses, have the potential to increase risk of disease decades later in life. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urges doctors to warn patients about the long-lasting effects of toxic exposure.
Flawed Policy and a Toxic Treadmill
Many of the tens of thousands of chemicals in our world today did not exist a century ago. Breakthroughs in chemistry brought 60,000 synthetic chemicals to market even before the nation’s first chemical regulatory system existed: the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. This flawed system, which has never been updated, allows chemicals to be “innocent until proven guilty”— entering the marketplace without basic proof of their health and safety effects. The burden is on the public to prove that a chemical is causing harm before it can be regulated. Too often, scientific research is a step behind the industry. As soon as one chemical begins to show evidence of toxicity and reason for concern, another untested chemical is already on the shelves. This “toxic treadmill” allows one chemical hazard to replace another.
Solutions From the Ground Up
Industry leaders are finding ways to eliminate toxic chemicals as they make products. But unless there is a demand for safer products, there is no incentive to eliminate toxics or develop safer alternatives. That’s where state action comes in. State policies are working to define toxic chemical priorities, disclose toxic chemical use and restrict the worst of the worst chemicals. These policies have led manufacturers to phase out toxics and retailers to take a closer look at chemicals in their supply chain. These policies also create models for federal chemical policy reform.