OUR TOXIC ENVIRONMENT AND WHAT YOU CAN DO

ABSTRACT: On a societal level, a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution is borne by Americans of color. At the specific level, every day skin care products contain toxic chemicals. Many contain formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), phthalates (linked to hormonal disruption and birth defects), and/or parabens (which mimic the hormone estrogen and have been linked to breast cancer). Lead (a neurotoxin so damaging to young children that it is banned from house paint and gasoline) is present in lipstick.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does NOT have the authority to test cosmetic ingredients before they are marketed or to order recalls. Regulation is in the hands of the industry itself, which to-date has found only 11 chemicals to be unsafe for use. In contrast, in Europe, 1,400 chemicals have been banned from personal care products. The chemical and cosmetics corporations spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying and other efforts to influence US policy.

Atrazine is a weed killer, widely used in the US but banned in the European Union. As an example of the lengths the chemical industry and its allies in Congress will go to stop any momentum to regulate toxins, they blocked a resolution honoring Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring 50 years ago, which established a clear link between DDT and other pesticide use and the widespread deaths of birds, as well as reproductive, birth, and developmental abnormalities in mammals.

Options for what you can do at home and politically are included in the full post below.

FULL POST: Before sharing some specific examples of toxic chemicals in our everyday lives and some things you can do about them, here’s an important societal perspective. A disproportionate burden of toxic pollution is borne by Americans of color. The environmental justice movement has documented the disproportionate presence of pollution sources in and near communities with high percentages of people of color. Prominent examples are in Louisiana and Detroit. The stretch along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans is dotted with oil refineries that belch a variety of toxins into the air of the surrounding, largely minority, communities. This area is known as “Cancer Alley.” Detroit’s zip code 48217 is 85% African American and is know as Michigan’s most polluted area. It is adjacent to a steel plant, a coal-fired power plant, a salt mine, and a huge oil refinery. The refinery alone emits close to 4 tons of toxins per year. Virtually every household in the area has at least one member who suffers from asthma, leukemia, cancer, or sarcoidosis (a disease in which inflammation occurs in the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, eyes, skin, or other tissues). After some homes in the area tested positive for up to 20 toxic gases, the refinery offered to buy the homes in an effort to reduce its liability. [1]

At the specific level, every day skin care products, including cosmetics, contain toxic chemicals. Many of these products, from suntan oil to makeup to hair spray to perfumes and colognes, contain formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), phthalates (linked to hormonal disruption and birth defects), and/or parabens (which mimic the hormone estrogen and have been linked to breast cancer). Lead (a neurotoxin so damaging to young children that it is banned from house paint and gasoline) is present in lipstick at concentrations 30 times higher than what the FDA allows in candy bars. Our skin is our largest organ and readily absorbs these products’ ingredients. Some of the chemicals absorbed accumulate over time because our bodies do not eliminate them or break them down. [2]

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), created by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, does NOT have the authority to test cosmetic ingredients before they are marketed or to order recalls – as it does for drugs and medical devices. Regulation is in the hands of the industry itself, which to-date has found only 11 chemicals to be unsafe for use in its products, including for use by women of child bearing age. In contrast, in Europe, 1,400 chemicals have been banned from personal care products because they are carcinogenic, mutagenic*, or toxic to reproduction.

The chemical and cosmetics corporations spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying and other efforts to influence US policy. In 2012, they blocked federal legislation that would have required complete ingredient labels on fragrances and hair sprays, as well as banned the use in cosmetics of carcinogens and chemicals linked to reproductive disorders. In addition, these corporations attempted to pass legislation that would block state regulation, such as that in California. If you would like more information and to take action, you can go to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at http://safecosmetics.org.

Home cleaning products are another example of every day items that contain toxic chemicals. For information on how to keep your home clean and shiny without using products with toxic chemicals go to http://www.bostonhealthcoach.com/oilrecordings.html and select the teleclass entitled “Chemical-Free Home.”

Atrazine is a weed killer, widely used in the US but banned in the European Union. In the human body, it mimics hormones and has what are referred to as endocrine system disrupting effects. It has been shown to disrupt the reproduction and immune systems in a wide range of animals, including mammals. It is present in water everywhere, including in rain water. It can actually turn male frogs into functioning females. [3]

As an example of the lengths the chemical industry and its allies in Congress will go to stop any momentum to regulate toxins, they blocked a resolution honoring Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, on its 50th anniversary and what would have been her 100th birthday. They attacked her as having made “junk-science claims about DDT” and accuse her and her supporters of being responsible for the deaths of “millions of people … particularly children” because supposedly the lack of use of DDT led to deaths from malaria and other diseases. The facts are that the EPA never banned DDT for use against malaria and Carson did not support a universal ban on pesticides but advocated for use of as little as possible. In Silent Spring, Carson established a clear link between DDT and other pesticide use and the widespread deaths of birds, as well as reproductive, birth, and developmental abnormalities in mammals. DDT, other pesticides, and some of the tens of thousands of chemicals in use today will be part of the environment and in our bodies for decades to come because they decompose or are eliminated very slowly. [4]

I urge you to contact your US Representative and Senators (and your state ones too) and to ask them to support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act (H.R. 1385) and the Safe Chemicals Act (S. 696). (Find your Representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and your Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.)


[1]       Brune, M., July / August 2013, “And justice for all,” Sierra Club magazine

[2]       Wasik, J.F., May / June 2013, “Beauty tips for the FDA: Did my wife’s cosmetics give her breast cancer?” The Washington Monthly

*       Mutagenic chemicals cause changes in the genetic material, usually DNA, of an organism and thus increase the frequency of mutations. As many mutations cause cancer, mutagenic chemicals are therefore also likely to be carcinogens. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutagen

[3]       Steingraber, S., 4/19/13, “Sandra Steingraber’s war on toxic trespassers,” Bill Moyers public TV show, available at BillMoyers.com. Note: Steingraber has written multiple books including “Having faith: An ecologist’s journey to motherhood” and “Raising Elijah: Protecting our children in an age of environmental crisis.”

[4]       Mangano, J.J., & Sherman, J.D., 10/1/12, “Rachel Carson’s brave, groundbreaking ‘Silent Spring’ at 50 years,” The Washington Spectator

2 comments

  1. Christi Collins · · Reply

    thanks for the shout-out, John! Hope you and Alice are having fun on vacation!

    Christi

    1. Christi,

      Happy to do it. Thanks for the info!

      John

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