The United States lags behind the European Union in instituting chemical safety checks for its citizens. Yet sound models—and sources of inspiration—do exist. States and municipalities have taken the lead by banning or restricting certain uses of chemicals like phthalates and flame retardants, and California’s Green Chemistry Initiative—supported by legislation signed into law in 2008—is working to improve the safety of consumer goods sold in California while creating new jobs, new technologies, and new markets.
In commenting on chemical use restrictions, Dr. Richard Jackson, the Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA and a former head of the Center for Environmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We don’t want dry-cleaning solvents in our livers, lead in our brains or perchlorate in our thyroids. We certainly don’t want endocrine disrupters in breast milk and umbilical cord blood. We need to be ratcheting down these levels in people by reducing the loading of these chemicals in the environment.’’
Actions speak even louder than words as powerful as these, so make your own statement through your actions:
- Ask Congress to pass new legislation to modernize controls on toxic chemicals. Remind them that it’s their responsibility to assure the public’s safety. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has been working tirelessly to overhaul 1976 legislation that has stymied the efforts of regulators to control dangerous substances and kept consumers from learning about their exposure to toxics. Visit their website to see what you can do to help.
- Support research on endocrine disruptors. The Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act would authorize the National Institute of Environmental Health Science to begin a major research program to develop methods to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals and evaluate their safety. The Endocrine Disruption Exchange offers several ways you can help.
- Join the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. This diverse network of individuals and organizations works to advance knowledge and effective action to address growing concerns about the links between human health and environmental factors.
- Lobby to improve safety and labeling of personal care products by participating in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. This coalition of U.S. health and environmental nonprofit groups works to promote nontoxic personal care products. It notes a major discrepancy between the number of ingredients banned from cosmetics in the United States—10—and the European Union—more than 1,100.
- Ask Congress to pass new legislation to require disclosure of ingredients in home cleaning products. Consumers deserve to know what they’re bringing home from the store, and maybe companies will be motivated to reformulate to avoid having to list suspect chemicals.
- Petition for screening to identify mutagens, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors and support efforts to develop a proactive national chemicals policy that evaluates chemicals and substitutes. Take inspiration from REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), the European Commission’s law on the safe use of chemicals that took effect on June 1, 2007. REACH places the onus on industry to generate safety data on chemicals and to identify the measures needed to manage the risks. Screening should be part of modernizing federal regulation of cosmetics and personal care products and other consumer products.
- Encourage Congress to support more research on the environmental causes of breast cancer. Tune into the ongoing work of the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environment Coordinating Committee and share your perspectives. Add your voice to the Breast Cancer Fund’s call for making prevention a public health priority.
- If you swim, run, walk, or shop for breast cancer, tell your event sponsors to spend your dollars on environmental research targeted to breast cancer prevention. Key research and policy recommendations are highlighted in the Institute of Medicine report and President’s Cancer Panel report.
- Pressure industry to reduce or stop the use of hormone-disrupting chemicals in their products. Insist that industry leaders disclose product formulations, conduct safety testing on their products, and reformulate their products until they’re safe.
- Be a vocal consumer. Call the toll-free numbers listed on product labels to request information about harmful chemicals and to let companies know you will switch brands if the ingredients listed are not safe. Ask that your concerns be shared with the marketing department and request a written response.
- Give your business to companies that support environmental causes. And don’t forget to let them—and their competitors—know the role that their environmental support played in your decision.
- Visit the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Action Center to learn about urgent issues needing immediate action. Lend your voice to pressing issues.
- Join a national environmental advocacy group. Increasingly, such groups are making a difference. After the Natural Resources Defense Council tested 14 air fresheners from Walgreens, for example, and found them to contain “a veritable cocktail” of chemicals, including some that have been linked to development problems in infants and breathing difficulties in adults, thousands of Walgreens stores pulled the air fresheners from their shelves. Lend your help to such efforts.
- Support the phase-out of old power plants. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, these power plants emit three to five times as much pollution per unit as newer plants—and they do not have to meet the same emissions standards.