Did you know that there are over 80,000 chemicals on the market in the U.S. alone? In fact, 42 billion pounds of synthetic chemicals enter American commerce everyday. (“The Human Experiment”) Chemicals we did not know existed, but are very harmful to us and our families, are in everyday products such as deodorant, makeup, lotions, etc. However, the American Chemical Industry helps our economy, provides jobs, and caters to the interests of big businesses. Yet, synthetic chemicals are not good for us, so how can we stop this? Before taking any action, it is important to understand the benefits and effects to these chemicals, as well as how you can replace and be rid of them in your life.
To begin with, you are probably wondering why we use chemicals in everyday products in the first place. We use them for several reasons. The first reason being that the chemical industry provides jobs and strengthens our economy. The second, is that these chemicals simply work well and are cheaper. And third, it benefits big businesses to continue to produce and use them in everyday products.
First, let’s discuss how chemicals provide jobs and strengthen our economy. The chemical industry supports communities and families across the nation. It employs over 800,000 Americans. In fact, according to the American Chemistry Council website, “For every one job created from the business of chemistry, 6.3 jobs are created in other sectors.” Jobs in this field include jobs in agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, education, etc. Careers that you would never think had anything to do with chemicals, actually do. The average wage of someone working in the chemical industry is $94,000, which is 47% higher than the average US manufacturing wage. As you can see, the chemical industry is a vital part of our nation's economy and future, as well as our own lives. At least, according to the American Chemistry Council it is. “From contributing 26 percent of our nation’s GDP to investing close to $93 billion in research and development in 2015 alone, our future depends upon the business of chemistry.” (American Chemistry Council Website)
Secondly, we use synthetic chemicals because they work well, and are less expensive. For example, BPA is used in the plastics industry due to it having three must have properties, it is clear, shatterproof, and lightweight. That makes it great for plastics because it allows you to have a perfect view of what is inside. In addition to it being translucent, it is durable, and heat resistant so you can heat up your food inside of it, and if you drop it, it won’t break. These containers are also reusable and resistant to stains. Furthermore, when BPA is used in cans, it protects the food inside from spoiling or being contaminated. In fact, BPA cans have a shelf life of two years or longer. (FactsAboutBPA.com) Also, it would cost more to use cans without BPA. In fact, it costs 39% more for BPA free cans than cans containing BPA. (“The Human Experiment”)
Lastly, the main reason we use chemicals in products is the fact that it benefits big businesses to use them. The American Chemistry Council is the trade association of the $720 billion a year American Chemical Industry. They represent companies like Dow, Dupont, Exxon-Mobil, and more than 100 others. As you can see, keeping synthetic chemicals in everyday products would clearly benefit them. In fact, they spent $52 million dollars lobbying in Washington in 2011 alone to try to keep these dreadful chemicals in our lives. And they continue to win against acts that could be rid of these detrimental chemicals. (“The Human Experiment”)
When the American Chemistry Council launches a campaign defending one of these horrible chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants, they use the same defense mechanisms as the tobacco and lead industry; deception, distraction, strategic marketing, and hijacking the science and research done on these chemicals. Part of these tactics, is something called the “Four Dog Defense.” The first defense; “My Dog Does Not Bite.” Simply put, this means they completely deny that the chemical is dangerous. They discredit any studies proving otherwise by publicly stating things about these studies such as “it is just junk science”, and crediting studies that they paid for as “real” science. (“The Human Experiment”)
The second defense; “My Dog Bites, But It Did Not Bite You.” This means that the chemical may be harmful, but it’s more beneficial, so do not worry, it will not harm you. An example of this defense is when there was a bill proposed against having brominated flame retardants in all furniture and mattresses in California, the American Chemistry Council put out advertisements stating that “This bill will set your children on fire.” (“The Human Experiment”)
When these defenses fail to fool the public, they move on to the third defense; “My Dog Bit You, But It Did Not Hurt You.” This means that people are exposed to this chemical, but they are not harmed by it because it is only harmful in extreme doses that an everyday person would not be exposed to. (“The Human Experiment”) For example, the BPA industry on several occasions has said that “Bisphenol A is not a risk to human health at the very low level that consumers might be exposed to.” (EnvironmentHealthNews.org)
Then finally, in desperation to save their reputations after all of these defenses have failed, they use the fourth and final defense; “My Dog Bit You, and Hurt You, But It Was Not My Fault.” The industry admits the chemical is harming people, but it is not their fault that the consumers use their products, it was that individual’s choice. An example of this is when people were first finding out that tobacco was bad for you, and the industry came out and said on several occasions that it is not their fault their product is dangerous and hurting people, it is the consumer’s fault for smoking their product in the first place. (“The Human Experiment”)
There are many hazardous synthetic chemicals that we are exposed to everyday without even realizing it. Three of these chemicals are BPA, PVC, and Brominated Flame Retardants.
One of these abhorrent chemicals is one you may have heard of, Bisphenol A. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals produced in the world. In the early 1900’s BPA was being studied as a sort of miscarriage prevention because it has estrogenic properties. (“The Human Experiment”) Estrogen is a hormone that is important for sexual and reproductive development in women. (“What Is Estrogen?”) Eventually, BPA made it’s way to the plastics industry, and today, BPA is a $6 billion industry. So, what is wrong with using BPA then? (FactsAboutBPA.com) Patricia Hunt, a scientist at Washington State University, ran an experiment on mice back in 2003. One day, she noticed that the mice kept aborting their pups. After further investigation, she realized this was because BPA was leaching into their bodies from their water bottles, causing them to abort their pups, as well as causing many other reproductive issues. (“Patricia Hunt”) But, it is not just mice. 7.3 million American couples have trouble conceiving and or carrying to term. This is a 49% increase since 1988. The weirdest part is, the biggest increase has been in women under 25. (“The Human Experiment”) A reproductive disorder known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, causes women to have enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid, as well as infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne, and obesity, and is one of the many reproductive issues experienced by these 7.3 million couples. It has been linked to endocrine disrupters such as BPA. (“Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)”) So, if BPA is so bad, why don’t we replace it with something else in our cans and plastics? Many states, including Connecticut, have a ban on putting BPA in products. But, as stated earlier, it costs more to use BPA free cans. Also, many companies that do replace their BPA cans with non BPA cans end up using worse chemicals such as PVC in their cans. (“Six Products To Avoid Whenever Possible”)
Another very dangerous endocrine disruptor that we are unknowingly exposed to is Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC. 14 billion pounds of PVC are produced every year in North America alone. 75% of this is used for construction, in things like pipes and fittings, flooring, coated fabrics, rigid film, etc. In fact, PVC use grows by 5% each year. (“PVC”) PVC is linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, neurological, reproductive, and immune system damage. Researchers at Harvard found that infants receiving treatment from medical devices containing PVC are exposed to high levels of the phthalate DEHP which is classified as a carcinogen, and reproductive toxicant. In fact, a child born on November 26, 2011 in California, had blood from his umbilical cord sent to a lab for testing. 28 chemicals and markers indicating 400 more, at birth were in his blood. How can a newborn child be exposed to all of these terrible chemicals before it has even had its first meal? It is obviously not the infants fault, nor even the parents fault. It is the chemical industries fault for failing to keep the public safe. Another example of how PVC is unhealthy, is the fact that it is a carcinogen. There has been a 30% increase in women and men developing breast cancer since 1975. You cannot explain this increase entirely on things such as birth control, hormone replacement therapies, later childbirth, and not nursing babies, which are all things that can increase the chance of breast cancer in women, because it is affecting men too. The even scarier part is that a lot of the men and women affected by this have no family history of breast cancer, do not drink or smoke, eat healthy, and exercise. So then what could be the cause of this increase? Many studies, such as the one ran by Patricia Hunt, suggest that it could be due to chemicals like BPA, PVC, and others that are known carcinogens. What makes this even worse is the fact that there are much better alternatives out there for PVC, BPA, and all of these other chemicals, that are not only healthier for people and the environment, but are better for the industries as well. Martyn Smith from The Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, states that “A lot of the barriers that we’ve put in the way of progress are artificial. And if you just learn from the very beginning that there’s no reason to separate considering function, structure, price, and all of that, from toxicity, end of life, fate in the environment, then you don’t have those barriers. And by the fact that a lot of these things actually are better for the companies in the long run.” (“The Human Experiment”) The Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, is one of 14 programs in the U.S. that focus on green chemistry in universities. (Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry Website)
Brominated flame retardants are persistent compounds that build up in our bodies. They are similar in structure to banned toxic substances such as DDT and PCBs. These substances, including flame retardants, are known to cause cancer, endocrine disruption, thyroid issues, and neurological damage. In 1975, California enacted one of the world’s strictest fire safety standards, causing manufacturers to add chemical flame retardants to many products such as furniture and mattresses. Despite three decades of use, brominated flame retardants have never been proven to reduce fire deaths in California. Senator Mark Leno has introduced four bills opposing flame retardants into the California legislature, and all have been defeated. Each time an opposing bill is presented, it is put down by the ACC and their “Citizens for Fire Safety” campaign. This campaign uses children to testify against the bill, including coaching children to say things like “Please don’t let me burn in a fire.” (“The Human Experiment”)
Let’s talk about what is being done to try to eradicate the use of toxic chemicals in everyday products. There are many government officials such as Senator Mark Leno that are trying to abolish laws requiring these chemicals to be used, as well as make laws to protect the general public from these chemicals. Senator Frank Lautenberg’s primary goal between 2010 and 2013 was to make a modern day chemical law to protect the health of the general public. (“The Human Experiment”)
The “Campaign For Safe Cosmetics” launched a seven year project in 2004 called the “Compact for Safe Cosmetics”. 1500 companies signed this pledge to make effective products without using ingredients linked to cancer or birth defects. The pledge also included avoiding chemicals banned in other countries, working together with non profit health groups to increase the demand for sustainable and safe products, and to fully disclose all ingredients used in products. 500 of these 1500 companies either met these requirements or made significant progress toward meeting them. Then, in 2013, the “Campaign for Safe Cosmetics” launched a petition that over 50,000 signed, demanding that Revlon remove toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Due to this petition, in December of 2014, Revlon removed two formaldehyde releasing chemicals and cocamide DEA from their products. (SafeCosmetics.org)
The “Campaign for Safe Cosmetics” has also made another very significant impact in the fight for greener cosmetics. They discovered while testing children’s products that the well known brand “Johnson & Johnson” had formaldehyde, and dioxane 1 and 4, in their baby shampoo. They contacted “Johnson & Johnson” and asked them to remove the chemicals from the baby shampoo formula, but they refused. What makes their resistance even worse, is the fact that there are formulas for the baby shampoo available in other countries, but not in the U.S. Soon, 25 other health groups joined them in their mission to force “Johnson & Johnson” to reformulate their baby shampoo in the United States. Finally, after months of resistance, “Johnson & Johnson” has agreed to remove the chemicals from the baby shampoo’s formula in America. (SafeCosmetics.Org)
Every state in America has introduced bills aimed at chipping away at the issue of trying to prevent chemical harm. In fact, there was a Children’s Safe Product act that was introduced into congress that would have required companies to report chemicals of concern in children’s products (which seems like the humane thing to do) that was opposed by congress due to it not being in the best interest of big businesses. (“The Human Experiment”).
If the government will not help, than who can? YOU can. Everyone in America has the choice to make a change and eliminate these chemicals from not only their only life, but the lives of others as well. There are groups such as “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families” and others that are part of a national coalition representing 15 million people working to pass strong laws on toxic chemicals. It does not take a government official to start a movement. Other amazing groups include the “Campaign For Safe Cosmetics” (as mentioned above), and even “Teens Turning Green”. Yes, teens can make a huge difference too. All of these groups’ websites have great information on what chemicals and brands to avoid, why you should avoid them, as well as what you can buy instead of the products and chemicals you buy now. For example, on the “Campaign For Safe Cosmetics” website, they have an extensive list of what chemicals to avoid, such as Acrylates, Benzophenone, Fragrance, Carbon Black, Homosalate, etc. They also have an entire section of their website dedicated to brands that do not use damaging chemicals in their products, with links to their websites. Brands such as Anarres Natural Health, Aubrey Organics, Be Green Bath & Body, EO Products, Bubble & Bee, Elf, and so many more, all have little to no harmful chemicals in their products, which range from makeup, to deodorant, to lotions, and every other product you could think of that you put on your skin. They even have information on how you can join up and help them to make a difference. (SafeCosmetics.org)
As you can see, the negative impacts of these chemicals on human health far outweigh the positive impacts they have on our economy. The chemical industry does help our economy by creating jobs, but they can continue to do this without having all the dangerous chemicals they have on the market now. They can also continue to work well without having random chemicals in them that serve no purpose, such as the formaldehyde in the Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo. Toxic chemicals such as BPA, PVC, and Brominated Fire Retardants should not be out on the market because of the severe health effects they have on humans, especially children and infants. We can make a change and stop big businesses from using these products that can seriously injure or even kill us and our families, by taking simple steps everyday. One way we can do this is by sching to greener products. The more people who switch from chemical filled products to safer green ones, the witmore pressure it puts on these industries who use chemicals because they are losing profit. Another way is by advocating and teaching your families and friends about the dangers of these chemicals. I hope after reading this, you’ll realize how detestable these chemicals are and will switch to smarter, healthier choices for your own safety, as well as others.
By Working with Manufacturers and Supporting Policy Initiatives, Healthy Child Has Helped to Transform the Marketplace to Encourage Safer Environments for Children. For the past 20 Years, Healthy Child Has Provided Access to Critical Information That Enco. "The Human Experiment." The Human Experiment. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products--Who's at Risk and What's at Stake for American Power
M Schapiro - 2007 - Chelsea Green Publishing
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