US Missing on REACH & Other Green Rules

After writing a number of articles about the European Union's Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and other regulatory compliance issues, I have become increasingly aware that Europe is at least 10 years ahead of the United States in demonstrating and mandating concern for the safety and health of its people.

I also can't help but notice the rising cost of healthcare and insurance as it relates to the increase of chronic health conditions in America. Recently, I read a book titled Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products & What's at Stake for American Power , written by Mark Schapiro, the editorial director of the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco. Let me quote a review from the jacket of the book.

“This story desperately needs to be told, and Mark Schapiro is just the one to tell it. Shapiro's startling message is that by lagging behind on environmental innovation American industries are jeopardizing their financial futures.” — David Wirth, Professor of Law and International Programs, Boston College Law School, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle.

By not being particularly focused on environmental issues with respect to human health and safety, our government is putting every US citizen in jeopardy by exposing them daily to the same chemicals now restricted by the EU Member States. More specifically, these are chemicals registered as substances of very high concern (SVHC). There are now 84 chemicals restricted by REACH, and when I began to look at the substances and their respective uses or applications, I was amazed. Before I list a few, let me define what an SVHC substance has to be guilty of before being added to the list. One or more may apply to each substance.

  • It is carcinogenic
  • It is mutagenic
  • It is toxic for reproduction
  • It is persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic

Keep in mind that the SVHC allowable levels are 0.1 percent of volume by weight. This is saying that even a small presence of any SVHC can pose a real threat to health and the environment. Below are just three of the 84 chemicals that we should all try to become familiar with. I suggest it is well worth your time to look at all of them and review where you and your family may be exposed on a daily basis.

  1. Boric acid (toxic for reproduction). CAS registry number: 10043-35-3, 11113-50-1.
  2. Lowes, Home Depot, Walgreens, and various retail outlets sell pure boric acid in small vinyl spray bottles. The primary household use is as a pesticide for roaches and ants. The spray puts white powder in the air and on floors around cabinets where the insects hide or traverse. An unattended child playing in or around the powdered areas could accidentally ingest some of the powder residue left on his hands or toys contaminated via direct contact with the toxic chemical.

    Chronic poisoning occurs in those who are repeatedly exposed to boric acid. For example, in the past, boric acid was used to disinfect and treat wounds. Patients who received such treatment over and over again got sick, and some died. Other uses include antiseptics and astringents, enamels and glazes, glass fiber manufacturing, medicated powders, skin lotions, some paints, photography chemicals, and some eye wash products. This household pesticide is restricted in the EU. The US only puts a warning label on the spray bottle.

  3. Anthracene oil (persistent bioaccumulative, carcinogenic, and toxic). CAS registry number: 90640-80-5.
  4. Anthracene is included in one of the groups of chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Anthracene is carcinogenic as listed by OSHA. Anthracene is generated during combustion processes: exposure to humans happens mainly through tobacco smoke and ingestion of food contaminated with combustion products. Once inside your body, anthracene appears to target the skin, blood, stomach and intestines, and the lymph system.

    Exposure to high doses of anthracene for a short time can cause damage to the skin. It also causes burning, itching, edema, and a buildup of fluid in tissues. Humans exposed to anthracene can experience headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, and inflammation or swelling of the stomach and intestines. In addition, reaction times can slow, and you may feel weak. Where else can we find anthracene oil in our day-to-day experience? Wood preservatives, insecticides, plating materials, and acrylic paints used by artists as a standard pigment emulsifier. This shows that the EU is not just concerned with chemicals that can cause death, but also ones that can affect the general health and wellbeing of its people.

  5. Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) (toxic for reproduction). CAS registry number: 117-81-7.
  6. DEHP is a substance that is used as a plasticizer to make PVC plastic soft and flexible. It is a colorless and odorless organic chemical. It is classed in a family of compounds known as phthalates. Phthalates are easily released into the environment because there is no covalent bond between the phthalates and plastics in which they are mixed. In 1999, the EU restricted the use of DEHP in all toys and other products like teethers and pacifiers for infants. As of February 10, 2009, 10 years after the EU's action, the US signed into law legislation restricting the use of DEHP in rattles, pacifiers, and teethers.

    However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission had determined that voluntary withdrawals of DEHP and DINP from teethers, pacifiers, and rattles had eliminated the risk to children and advised against enacting a phthalate restriction. Some phthalates were restricted in children's toys sold in California starting in 2009. End-applications include adhesives and glues, building materials, personal-care products, medical devices, detergents, packaging, modeling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles.

    Phthalates are also frequently used in soft plastic fishing lures, caulk, paint pigments, and toys made of so-called “jelly rubber.” Phthalates are used in a variety of household applications such as shower curtains, vinyl upholstery, adhesives, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers, and cleaning materials. Personal-care items containing phthalates include perfume, eye shadow, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hairspray. They are also found in modern electronics and medical applications such as catheters and blood transfusion devices. Chances are, in one form or another, you and your children are being exposed to DEHP daily. Our entire cosmetic industry is self-regulated. The EU has the right idea. Cosmetic manufacturers and importers are included under REACH.

After reading that, what may be most startling is that I have only listed three out of the 84 SVHC chemicals that are currently on the list. One cannot help but notice that the EU has a strong and well-developed sense of duty and care for its community. We should hope for and encourage the United States government and legislators to get on a fast-track to match the EU.

The reality is that the corporations that are profiting from the use of SVHC chemicals in their products continue to buy their way into our government's legislative process. It's only with increased awareness of these concerns by the public, along with public pressure, that we might expect a change in environmental policy governing SVHCs anytime soon.

7 comments on “US Missing on REACH & Other Green Rules

  1. mike_at_DCA
    July 10, 2012

    Douglas, I agree that the US is way behind the EU now in terms of advancing environmental regulations. Congress has had the Safe Chemicals Act introduced as a bill several times over since 2005 and none, Republican or Democrat, has even bothered to vote on it.

    However, note that SVHC substances are NOT THE SAME as RESTRICTED substances under REACH. Restricted substances are listed in Annex XVII of REACH. SVHCs have only to be disclosed per the conditions described in Article 33. This means that you can still use them in your products but you have to tell your customers they're there if they meet certain thresholds.

  2. dalexander
    July 10, 2012

    @Michael, you are correct. I used the word “restricted” in a general sense and not to the letter of the legislation. I will watch for that in the future. Thanks for the correction.

  3. garyk
    July 10, 2012

    Lets evaluate what we are saying.

    Europe has healthy people? Not so healthy? But NO jobs!!!!!!!!

    CHINA follow's the rules and makes there own rules?? There people are heathy except where the factories are??!!

    The US is one of safest countries in the world!!!!!!!!!! If you don't think, move to one of those other countries.

  4. dalexander
    July 10, 2012

    @Gary – The point of the article is that we in the USA are unnecessarily exposed to chemicals known to be hazzardous because we do not have sufficient government enforcement for restrictions for the use of many chemicals found in everday products. Let me refer to something directly taken from the FDA web pages.

    Does FDA approve cosmetics before they go on the market?

    “FDA's legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives.”

    In other words, there is no dispassionate review and approval agency for potentially dangerous chemicals used in cosmetic products before they hit the distribution and retail marketplace. The cosmetic industry is virtually self-regulated.  The fox is watching the hen house.

    The Environmental Working Group, the EPA, and FDA among other trusted organizations conducted a study of over 14,000 personal care products. They found hundreds of varieties of skin and tanning lotions, mascara, nailpolish, and other personal care products that contained suspected carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins. According to documented results,99% of the products never were publicly assessed for safety. The truth is, prior to this study, no independent agency ever examined these products.

    DDT was banned for sale and distribution in America, but production and export was allowed for shipments to 3rd world countries. We knew that it was extremely toxic to human beings so why did we knowingly ship it to human beings overseas. What does that say about our ethics vs. profit motivations.

    Please read Exposed as it contains multiple study results as posted by reputable agencies and scientist concerned for the safety of us all. Schapiro is not an alarmist. No more than you would be if you were caught in a burning building and felt strongly compelled to pull the fire alarm.

  5. bolaji ojo
    July 11, 2012

    You didn't address the international impact of these laws on businesses. You looked at the issue from the “environmental responsibility/moral angle”. I've always seen that as a sure-fire way to get people riled up on government “interventionism” and the responses you're getting reveals this. We may disagree with people who think there are too many rules on enterprise commerce but that doesn't undercut their viewpoint.

    I wonder if we aren't overlooking the potential impacts of the EU regulations on American companies despite alleged US government's lack of oversight. Consider that REACH, RoHS and WEEE and many other environmental regulations did not originate in the U.S. but every major company based in the US that wants to sell products into EU member states, Korea, Japan and even China have to abide by the dictates of these legislations. They may get a free pass at home but not abroad.

  6. dalexander
    July 11, 2012

    @Bolaji, That is an article in itself. P&G has an approach that guarantees acceptance of their products around the world. They call it Glocal, Global/Local. They sell pizza flavored Pringles to France and Germany, but Italy will have nothing to do with that flavor. In the same way, P&G has personal care products and cosmetics marketed in Europe with REACH compliant formulations while the same products sold into non REACH regulated regions has a different list of ingredients. They vary the strength of their Ariel detergent using the Glocal approach because Germany uses a lot of detergent in every wash while France uses less. As you know, each US company that sells into the EU has to comply with REACH so they are gearing up their infrastructure, processes, and modifying formulations to meet the requirements. In the article, I said the US was 10 years behind the EU. Like RoHS, REACH allowances and prohibitions will eventually become mainstream in our industries as well. I think we should be grateful for these mandates as it forces producers who follow the dollar signs only to consider the health and well being of not just their customers, but also the environment in a big way.

  7. lhildebrand
    July 21, 2012

    These chemicals must also have other names that manufacturers use. Personally, I'd have maybe liked an “also known as” for the three you listed. Now I'm lost in scary memories of my carefree but ignorant youth.  When I lived for a year in Hawaii, I had a 7'x10' space with no bed so I slept on a futon on the floor. The place was under a garage. It was CRAWLING with roaches. I spread copious amounts of boric acid all around my space and as I slept on the floor, I was inhaling it thoroughly and consistently every night.

    We live on the edge and have for quite a while since everything is either polluted or so costly to purchase or to regulate that we have little chance for bigger impact. We can't forget  that the US banned DDT and it's still in use around the world, floating back to the U.S. in the water and on winds, no matter what our own 'ethic' is. How in the world could we hope to effectively regulate and enforce environmental laws with so few real people working in the field? I ran into this stumbling block when I was doing a year-long study of toy safety with gifted kids. 

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