I’m really mad at the Powers that Be. They have let us down yet again. This past month there has been a flurry of new research and lawmaking related to chemicals and toxins and their effects on our children. I want to know why it’s taken so long to figure some of these out.
The one that makes me angriest is what’s going on with Bisphenol A (BPA). It was bad enough when, last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out and said it had “some concerns” about the chemical that helps harden plastics. But now based on research states are not only calling for bans of the chemical in infant and toddler items, some are looking to classify BPA as a toxin. This week, for example, the California Environmental Protection Agency signaled its intent to add BPA to a list of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects. In this case, BPA, a synthetic form of estrogen, falls into the second category. A month ago BPA was considered safe, but now it’s not? How does that work?
Meanwhile, two papers have come to light that show polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are also known as flame retardants have a direct link to health. The first study links PBDE levels with lower IQ scores. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that the higher the levels of PBDEs mothers come in contact with while pregnant, the lower kids IQ scores come out to be. The second PBDE study links the chemicals to an increased risk of infertility. Considering that any couch, mattress, or carpet pad manufactured before 2005 probably contains PBDEs, these studies are significant. (You can read the Environmental Working Group’s excellent guide to reducing PBDE exposure here.) Again, it took this long to figure this all out? What happened to testing this stuff before you let us — and our kids — sleep on it, sit on it, and wear it?
Finally, at the end of last month researchers at Mount Sinai reported that prenatal exposure to phthalates affects childhood neurodevelopment. Kids who are exposed in the womb are more likely to have behavior problems, according to the study. “We found a striking pattern of associations between low molecular weight phthalates – which are commonly found in personal care products – and disruptive childhood behaviors, such as aggressiveness and other conduct issues, and problems with attention. These same behavioral problems are commonly found in children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Conduct Disorder,” said Stephanie Engel, PhD, lead study author and Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in the school’s press release.
And just where can you find phthalates? Shampoo, cosmetics, perfumes, and lotions, among other things. Look for the following ingredients on your bottles and tubes if you want to avoid phthalates, according to the FDA: “The principal phthalates used in cosmetic products are dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP). They are used primarily at concentrations of less than 10% as plasticizers in products such as nail polishes (to reduce cracking by making them less brittle) and hair sprays (to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair) and as solvents and perfume fixatives in various other products.”
After reading all these studies, I have to ask: Why is it that the U.S. government allows these things to go on? The Canadian government doesn’t. The European Union doesn’t, either. They both have what I think is a pretty smart policy when it comes to chemicals and drugs. Instead of labeling everything safe unless proven dangerous, the EU assumes everything is dangerous unless proven safe. Seven years ago in 2003, the EU banned a boat load of chemicals in cosmetics. You can read all about it here. I don’t get it. Why isn’t the U.S. government protecting us? Why do I have to stop using my favorite hair conditioner because it gets a 7 (as in high hazard) on the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database. Why does it contain an ingredient that is not allowed to be used in Canada? And another that’s banned by the EU? I am pissed. You should be, too.
We have to do something. We need to make some noise. We have to ask our regulators to start taking action on our behalf. We can also vote with our wallets. Are you willing to do it? I am, although my hair is going to be really mad about it until I find a natural curly conditioner.