Toxic Chemicals Widespread in Consumer Products
Government and new laboratory data show consumers exposed throughout the home
Washington, DC — Toxic chemicals are widespread in consumer products often found in the home according to a new analysis by the National Environmental Trust (NET). The chemicals include many that federal agencies already associate with cancer, reproductive harm and neurotoxicity. The report, Cabinet Confidential, does not allege a direct link between the findings and rates of chronic diseases, but it highlights consumer products as a source of chemical exposure that receives little government scrutiny. Environmental advocates say the federal government has failed to keep pace with emerging scientific findings showing people can be exposed to these chemicals in virtually every part of their home.
The full report and lab test results are available here.
"We were surprised by how widespread these chemicals are," said Tom Natan, PhD, Research Director for NET. "Chemicals that are known to be toxic frequently appear in consumer products like cleaners, paints, adhesives, and cosmetics. They are often unnecessary and consumers are almost always unaware."
NET analyzed data generated by unique programs in Massachusetts and New Jersey that require manufacturers to document the toxic chemicals they use and whether they end up as pollution or become part of the product that is being made. NET supplemented those findings by subjecting dozens of products to independent laboratory testing to determine which brands contained the chemicals. The results include:
Facilities that manufacture products that could be used around the home report shipping 42 pounds of toxics chemicals in the product, for every pound they emit as pollution.
While manufacturers intend for most of the chemicals to be in the product, a substantial portion are present as impurities or byproducts.
Of the 40 consumer products that NET had tested, more than half contained toxic chemicals that were not on the label. For example: Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner contained glycol ethers (neurotoxins) not listed on the label, and Revlon Moondrops Lipsticks contained unlabeled phthalates (neurotoxins and reproductive toxins).
The five industries that shipped the most problem chemicals by volume were: paints, varnishes, and enamels; specialty cleaning products; motor vehicle and passenger car bodies; adhesives and sealants; and wood preservatives.
Cosmetics also contained a variety of industrial chemicals, including phthalates (reproductive toxins) and glycol ethers (neurotoxins). Consumers are exposed to these toxins by absorbing them through their skin (for example in hand lotion), or oral exposure (by ingesting lipstick while eating, for example).
Labels are an imperfect tool for consumers to avoid toxic chemicals. Cosmetics and many other categories of products are not required to list all their ingredients. The report highlights the lack of official attention to consumer products as a source of chemical exposure, in contrast to strong programs to curb air and water pollution or even to regulate pesticides. The relevant law, the Toxics Substance Control Act (TSCA), exempts virtually all of the chemicals examined in the report from government oversight and does not provide the Environmental Protection Agency enough power to assess the safety of chemicals in consumer products. The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) strict program for drugs does not apply to cosmetics, whose safety is largely left to a private industry panel. And while the Consumer Product Safety Commission effectively handles issues concerning immediate injury — like lawn darts — it has an ad hoc process to deal with the longer-term health threats like those posed by chemicals.
"Most people assume the government polices commercial chemicals in the same way the FDA polices drugs, but it's not true." said Andy Igrejas, the Director of the Environmental Health campaign for NET. "When it comes to the safety of things like cosmetics, there's no sheriff in town."
Igrejas called on Congress to look at Europe and several states for guidance. Europe is overhauling its chemical policy to require safety evaluations for commercially-used chemicals. New Jersey and Massachusetts track chemical use. California's legislature is considering regulating cosmetic safety. In addition, NET called on the Centers for Disease Control to include some of the most common commercial chemicals in its new program to measure pollution in the American public, a process called bio-monitoring.
Environmental advocates say consumers can take steps to limit their exposure to these toxins while they press for the federal government to play catch up. They advise consumers to read the labels to avoid products that explicitly say on the label that they contain toxic chemicals. Consumers should also limit their contact with these products by using ample ventilation, wearing gloves and removing residue as quickly as possible.
The full report is available at www.net.org. Television stations can obtain a video package of sound bites and b-roll by calling 202-544-8400.
The National Environmental Trust is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established in 1994 to inform citizens about environmental problems and how they affect our health and quality of life.
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