Yesterday I read the book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power by Mark Schapiro.
This book was clearly written with a liberal bias. The author praises the European way of addressing the chemicals present in everyday products, and is very anti-Bush administration. I could be okay with that if the author did a respectable job of telling both sides of the story, but he did not. Schapiro would completely explain the EU methodology, and provide a limited response from the American viewpoint. He did not explain the rationale for the US system of dealing with chemicals in products, except to allege that the US policy is dictated by the companies making the products.
To summarize the book, I would start by saying that the EU now represents a larger population than the government of the United States. When it issues directives limiting what can be sold in the EU, corporations must take note as there is a large consumer base in the EU. The EU has adopted a philosophy predicated on the precautionary principle; if a chemical is known to be harmful at any dosage, the EU works to limit people’s exposure to it. The EU will ban it in products, etc. The US, on the other hand, will ask at what dosage the chemical is harmful, and see if the chemical is present at that dosage during normal use of everyday products before considering any regulatory action.
Another difference noted between the EU system and the US system is that in the EU individual citizens do not have nearly as much legal right to sue over injury from a product. The US, on the other hand, has an active tort system. This allows anyone to sue for wrongdoing by a company that made harmful product. Therefore the US does not require the government to ban products in order for there to be an incentive for companies to make sure their products are not harmful.
The book does not fully address the dilemma that it doesn’t matter what regulations are in place if the regulations aren’t followed. The book barely notes that so many products are made in China, and that in China it is not uncommon for corners to be cut and for products to be made with illegal components. Schapiro makes note of a few shipments confiscated by the EU because they tested positive for banned chemicals. This challenge is not completely investigated by Schapiro.
As much as I disagree with the politics of this book, I do agree that it is important to look at the chemicals in everyday products and investigate the effect of those chemicals. I believe in the power of the consumer, and believe that is the consumer’s job to be educated, consume products that he or she wants to, and the market will adapt to meet that demand.
What You Can Do If You Want to Limit Your Exposure to Chemicals
With just a bit of research I found a variety of resources that people can use to limit their exposure to chemicals if they so desire. Since a lot of chemicals are found in plastics, there’s this book Plastic-Free by Beth Terry which gives advice on how to limit plastic consumption:
There’s also this book by Deanna Duke. Duke details her efforts to limit chemical exposure in her home after her family experiences health problems. I haven’t read this book, but I have read Duke’s blog, and I like the way she writes. I would note that again there is a very liberal bias.
There are also a variety of websites that enable people to look up chemicals in products. HealthyChild.org offers pocket guides, articles, and other helpful resources to be a smart consumer. SkinDeep offers a database search of over 75,000 products that lets you know what’s in each product and gives it a safety rating. I looked up one of the makeup products I use, and found out it’s not that bad!
Here‘s a New York Times article on the issue of chemicals with babies and young children that is a good read on the issue. This article is a quick summary of some of the most debated chemicals in children’s toys.
This article from Mothering.com details how to avoid toxins in packaging for food. This article from WebMDdetails how people are being exposed to BPA through its presence on paper, though notes that experts say exposure is at tolerable levels. The issue would become how much BPA are people being exposed to overall when the exposure from paper is combined with other exposure.
Our homesteading work has also allowed us to limit our exposure to chemicals in products. Look forward to a future post on this!