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.
- Boric acid (toxic for reproduction). CAS registry number: 10043-35-3, 11113-50-1.
- Anthracene oil (persistent bioaccumulative, carcinogenic, and toxic). CAS registry number: 90640-80-5.
- Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) (toxic for reproduction). CAS registry number: 117-81-7.
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.
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.
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.