Monday, November 26, 2007

Not so fresh air

Today on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Mark Schapiro who has written a book called Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power. Because I was driving, I didn’t get to listen to the whole show, I didn’t get to listen as carefully as I would have liked, and I am unable to find a transcript online, so what I’m about to say must be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I learned two particularly horrible things from this interview.

First, there is a family of toxic industrial chemicals called phthalates that are used as softeners in PVC plastics. Products made out of these plastics range from dashboards to toys to IV tubes. The E.U. has banned these products, but the U.S. has not. According to Schapiro, companies have had absolutely no problems conforming to the E.U. ban on phthalates. Toy sales have not decreased, and European children are not condemned to play with nothing but old cardboard boxes. And yet these same companies continue to manufacture toys and other products containing phthalates to sell in the U.S.

Second, and according to Schapiro, the E.U. has also banned carcinogens, mutagens, and compounds which affect the reproductive system from all cosmetics. The U.S. has not. Once again, the same companies which are carefully finding replacements for toxic cosmetics ingredients are simultaneously lobbying the U.S. government to stop legislation requiring the disclosure of the ingredients of cosmetics.

It’s getting to the point that I am seeing everything I own, everything manufactured, as a threat to the health of my family. I’m starting to feel like I should get rid of all of Jack’s toys and give him some old cardboard boxes instead. So here’s what I’m proposing: Let’s all send emails and actual, hand-written letters to our representatives, Senators, the president, toy companies, and cosmetic companies calling for a U.S. ban on the same toxic chemicals that the E.U. is banning. This should be a no-brainer; companies are already finding alternatives to comply with the E.U. law, so they should just make the same safer products available to us here. And I’m also asking all of my readers who have their own blogs, especially those of you with more than the 20 readers I have – I’m talking to you, Emily, Arwen, and Maggie – to put the call out to your readers as well.

I need a day or two to get a list of names and addresses of where these letters should be sent, and I need to buy Schapiro’s book to make sure my facts are right. But once I have the information, I’ll post it here.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but if we could just raise awareness, maybe the American consumer would start to demand better choices, and better choices would become available. Maybe our own children won’t be doomed to a toy box full of old cardboard boxes.

9 comments:

maggie said...

I just wrote about this stuff! Sort of. A little bit. Also, what you think are 20 readers is just my mom hitting refresh.

Emily said...

I am a PASSIVE PERSON. I sit back and let OTHER PEOPLE DO THIS.

I realize that I shouldn't be that kind of person, however. SO. I agree. I will do something. I will begin by linking to you.

P.S. Something about Terry Gross's voice fascinates me endlessly.

Anonymous said...

Do you read Jo (Leery Polyp). She has a bunch of links on her blog about the dangers of plastics, etc. Maybe you should hit her up for info.

Kat said...

Amen! And I'd like to offer this link: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/splash.php?URI=%2Findex.php It lets you search all of your personal care/cosmetics brands and see what is safe and what isn't (their standards are really strict though, so don't be alarmed--sometimes a "danger" is only a fragrance)

Smalkan said...

Well said! I agree completely that we need to ban toxic chemicals and overhaul consumer safety product laws. Mark's book is fantastic and I just released a book on the topic of toxic cosmetics. Check it out, "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry." (including a chapter about phthalates, which are widely used in cosmetics).

Thanks for your work,
Stacy Malkan

the brother said...

I have also heard this, however, not on NPR. Although I am not sure if it is the same author who I heard say it. As far as emailing your congressional representatives, go to the links below to choose the appropriate Representatives or Senator.

http://www.house.gov/writerep/

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

the brother said...

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/
senators_cfm.cfm

Meika said...

I heard the same show. Freakyyyyy....

Kris said...

The EU has a long-established habit of banning everything. Even things like genetically engineered foods have been banned. Genetically engineered foods have no real problems (none have been proven scientifically even though people really want there to be problems). As such the EU won't even trade with nations using them. As such many African countries won't use them and lots of people are dying from lack of food. I do not use the EU as the benchmark for good policy. Their overzealous precautionary principle has caused many problems. I am not in favor of using lots of chemicals on things, but I think people are fooling themselves with phthalates. Frankly there are many other much more scary things we should be looking at: bioaccumulation of hormones and PCBs in drinking water, airborn particulates near coal plants (even though coal is wonderful since it's not oil), etc. It's just these problems are so big that you can't do anything about it. Just because we can do something about very small things like phthalates, it doesn't make them a really important problem. I would like to see more research first.