Toxic chemicals are endangering children in the US, and the government isn't doing enough to protect them. That's the upshot of a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that calls for an overhaul of regulations designed to protect children and pregnant women from toxic chemicals in household products and foods.
According to the report, "Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of new chemicals have been introduced into the environment, often in extremely large quantities. But the Toxic Substances Control Act [the current law] has not undergone any meaningful revision since it was first passed in 1976, and since then, the TSCA has been used to regulate only five chemicals or chemical classes."
The AAP is particularly concerned about chemicals used in the making of everyday consumer products—from chemicals in plastics to flame retardant fabrics—and the lack of health safety testing required by manufacturers before consumer products hit the market. Under current law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges it knows little about thousands of chemicals produced in volumes of 1 million pounds a year or more. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, a growing amount of independent research is raising concerns about dozens of substances used for decades with little or no government oversight.
Studies show that children's bodies absorb a vast array of harmful substances and because kids are smaller and their bodies are still developing, chemicals may pose a greater threat to children than to grownups. Sucking on rubber toys, drinking from plastic baby bottles, and playing on chemically treated carpets are all potential sources of toxin exposure.
But what's safe and what's not? That's where children's doctors are frustrated. "The lack of strong federal oversight means there isn't enough reliable information to give our patients good advice," says Dr. Jerome Paulson, a Washington, D.C., pediatrician and lead author of the academy's statement (via the LA Times).
Trying to cut the chemicals in your family's life? Though current law may be lacking, consumers still have a powerful voice when it comes to demanding to know more about the chemical content of the products they buy, especially when it comes to baby gear. As the LA Times points out, parents and health groups have raised enough questions about BPA (bisphenol A) in plastics that big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target have told suppliers they won't carry products containing the substances, a surefire tactic to get manufacturers to change their ways.
Besides looking for products that labeled BPA-free or free of other chemicals that may be cause for concern (parabens, formaldehyde, flame retardants), you can often bypass the chemical issue altogether by looking for tried-and-true toxin-free alternatives. Worried about plastic baby bottles, even if the plastic doesn't contain BPA? Make the switch to glass bottles, now more widely available as demand increases. When Baby is older, try stainless steel or natural rubber coated glass sippy cups or just use your own glasses and mugs.