Is The Chemical Industry Hiding Information About Our Exposure To Toxic Chemicals?

If you have to ask…

gas mask


Companies are required to submit to the EPA all studies about substantial risk that their chemicals pose to humans. And one of the bests way to study how bad a chemical is for people is to examine exposed pregnant women and their umbilical cord blood. If it can be passed on to the baby, it’s bad for you, too.

But an investigation from the Environmental Working Group found that the EPA has virtually no documents with these tests on file. Either the companies aren’t doing them (irresponsible) or are doing them and avoiding submitting them to the EPA (potentially illegal).

Consider: In 2003, the EWG discovered that DuPont held back information from an internal study showing that “quantifiable levels” of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a potentially toxic non-stick chemical, were found in eight
pregnant workers at a company plant. Facial birth defects were also found on many of the children when they were born.

Why should chemical companies voluntarily submit their information? After all, DuPont was fined $16.5 million by the EPA for its actions. The answer, of course, is that they have no incentive. But the EPA has the authority–which it clearly doesn’t use–to require companies to submit unpublished health and safety studies, as well as to send in any information supporting the conclusion that their chemicals pose a significant risk of injury.

“EWG’s review suggests that either the chemical industry is failing to submit required data to EPA regarding people’s exposures to its products, or it is failing to conduct basic research to determine which of its chemicals end up in people’s bodies, and at what levels,” explained EWG president Ken Cook in a letter (PDF) to EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Such biomonitoring exposure studies are regularly conducted by industrial hygienists and by academic and government scientists. Logically, the chemical industry should be conducting the same, basic studies to understand the safety of its chemicals for the public.”

It’s up to the EPA, then, to prod the chemical industry into action. Then we can focus on worrying about the chemicals we already know are in our bodies, like BPA.


[Image: Flickr user Dave_B_]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.