On Monday, November 8, 2010, we were honored to host a presentation by Dr. Richard Denison at New Living. The event was attended by 70+ people including one of our own Greenius’s Allison Monteith of Three Branches Health shared the following blogpost. You can download the full presentation from Dr. Denison by clicking here.

Although a tad heavy for a Friday, I implore you to read this blog post in full because it covers such a concerning and crucial, yet over-looked, topic. Dr. Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an international organization that tackles serious environmental problems, spoke at New Living in Houston this past Monday evening. His presentation covered the need for chemical reform, and more specifically, tighter regulations on harmful chemicals and the need for alternatives.

 Chemicals: an overview 

In 1979, there were 62,000 chemicals in the U.S. market. Today, there are 84,000. To cite a few examples of the chemicals we’re exposed to, consider the following:

Common chemicals, like formaldehyde, are found in most homes and a recent study done in Arizona revealed that 25% of homes contain levels of this toxic chemical above the recommended dose.

  1. The materials used in Louisiana trailers after hurricane Katrina are banned in Japan and the European Union, yet allowed in the United States.
  2. Studies prove that 91-99% of people carry perflourinated compounds in their blood; these are extremely toxic chemicals found in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, etc. According to CNN’s 2010 study, “Exposed Before Birth“, “[perclourinated chemicals] are listed by the EPA as a chemical of concern.” (Linked to low birth weight and even cancer, we think that these toxins should pose more than a “concern” on Americans.)
  3. There are 27 trillion pounds of chemicals produced per year in the U.S. That’s 250 pounds per person per day! These are used to make 96% of all materials and products we use.

Dr. Denison pointed out the undeniable connection between chemicals and the rise in disease. The incidence of men with lower sperm count, children diagnosed with Leukemia and girls beginning puberty at a younger age is on the rise. He stated that, while we have a genetic component to our diseases and sicknesses, much of what we’re seeing today can be traced back to chemical exposure. We can’t control genetics, but we can control our exposures.

But isn’t our government protecting us?

The Toxic Substances Control Act(TSCA, commonly pronounced “tosca”) was enacted in 1976 and hasn’t changed since. Its purpose is to “compile, keep current, and publish a list of each chemical substance that is manufactured or processed in the United States.” Upon its inception, 10,000 chemicals were grand-fathered in, regardless of their affect on humans. The main problem with TSCA is that the burden of proving chemical’s harm is on the government, instead of on the companies who are producing the chemicals in the first place. We are hoping that with reform, TSCA will place the burden on the ladder, as the pesticide and drug companies are now required to do; they are forced to prove that their products are safe before allowed on the marketplace.

 According to the Physicians for Social Responsibility(PSR), “Since [TSCA's] passage, less than 200 of the over 80,000 registered chemicals have been evaluated for safety while only five have been banned.”

 PSR goes on to say, “New chemicals must provide only limited safety information, and some ingredient and safety information can be withheld from the public under confidential business information clauses. Finally, the government must provide proof of harm before it is able to regulate, issue bans, or request further testing. These weaknesses have essentially crippled the EPA to fulfill its mission to ensure the American public safe chemical management.”

 Is there hope for the future?

Dr. Denison left us on a promising note, however. TSCA has been pulled to the front burner in late and this can be attributed to individual state legislation and policy changes that have spurred the government as a whole to update this bill. It’s also the top priority of the EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, whose focus is on protecting air and water quality, preventing exposure to toxic contamination in our communities, and reducing greenhouse gases. Also, REACH, a new European policy on chemicals and their safe use, deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances. The new law entered into force in June 2007. The REACH Regulation gives greater responsibility to industry (instead of the government) to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. Under this policy, manufacturers and importers are required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances. REACH has made the United States think twice about its current, outdated chemical policies.

What can we do about this?

Perhaps most integral is the U.S. market demand. This is where we come in. Where and what we spend our money on is how we can make a difference. Look for non-toxic alternatives to everyday products. Say no to personal care products that contain parabens and synthetic fragrances. Choose non-toxic cleaning products. Eat organic food whenever possible. This will make a huge difference not only in your health but in forming future policy. The market meets consumer demands and if we demand differently, the market will respond!

I want to learn more!

To be kept up to date on this topic, you can tune into a free webinar on Thursday, November 18th from 2-3 p.m. EST. It will feature Dr. Denison, and will cover such topics as green chemistry, how policy changes can support the development of greener chemicals and the hopeful future reform of TSCA. The webinar includes a short presentation followed by a Q & A session. Registar now for a spot! I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed with the crucial information you’ll learn from Dr. Denison.

 To be continued…

 Kelly and I had the unique opportunity to join Dr. Denisonon a “toxic tour” of Houston the day following his speach at New Living. Our eyes were opened wide to the abundance of chemicals produced right here in our city, especially the areas east of downtown. What’s most concerning is not necessarily the amount of chemicals present, but the fact that it’s in the midst of residential areas, where kids are abound. I will write a post in the near future, including many pictures, that will help you get a better idea of what we were witness to.

2 Responses to Dr. Richard Denison and Chemical Policy (notes from presentation included)

  1. [...] this decade alone, the chemical industry has produced or imported 27 trillion pounds of synthetic chemicals each year, the equivalent of 250 pounds per person — [...]

  2. [...] this decade alone, the chemical industry has produced or imported 27 trillion pounds of synthetic chemicals each year, the equivalent of 250 pounds per person — [...]

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