Avoiding Risky Chemicals, Finding Safer Substitutes
"It has been clear for some time now that the current assessment procedures for existing chemical substances are inadequate. They are too slow and burdensome and have acted to inhibit innovation, slowing down the development of substitute products which might be less harmful to our health and environment."
Most people think that the chemicals they use in everyday products have been adequately tested before being put on the market. The reality is that an estimated 95 percent of the chemicals in commerce today lack basic testing data on potential health and environmental impacts. This means the chemicals we apply in cosmetics, the chemicals that are off-gassed or abraded from products we buy and the chemicals we inadvertently ingest via air, food, or water have probably never undergone extensive testing. Many of these chemicals were put on the market prior to mandatory testing regulations, and to date, the chemical industry has been allowed to continue to market these chemicals with little to no accountability for ensuring the safety of their products. For this reason the European Union is trying to introduce a mandatory testing program for all chemicals on the market.
Many progressive companies screen their products to insure that they are not using unknown or inherently harmful chemicals. These companies are leading the way towards safer material markets. Unfortunately, without better government regulations many companies will continue to use hazardous materials. If a chemical contains the following properties, it is inherently harmful and should not be in commercial use.
- Carcinogenic (cancer causing)
- Mutagenic (causes mutations in cells)
- Reproductive toxin (linked to birth defects)
- Persistent (not easily excreted from the body)
- Bioaccumulative (magnifies up the food chain)
- Teratogenic (linked to birth defects)
- Endocrine disruptor (disrupts the hormonal system)
Many Multilateral Environmental Agreements have called for the elimination of hazardous substances within one generation, but progress is slow and is met with opposition from the chemical industry and many downstream users of their products. Government regulations need to mandate that materials exhibiting these properties cannot be put into products or used in production processes. Government regulations should promote innovation of new material streams that will meet our needs without compromising public and ecological health.