Whether it is a conscious concern or a subconscious acceptance, most Americans wouldn't think twice about the fact that chemicals are ubiquitous in our daily lives. A trip down the drugstore aisle, fifteen minutes of watching television, or a quick skim though popular magazines will all let you know that thanks to chemicals, you can hide your gray hair and make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood. Better living through chemistry …? Plastic makes it possible …? Well, yes, in some ways… but more and more we're seeing what chemicals are NOT making possible—like healthy, normal human and animal reproduction, for example, or a life free from cancer.
The 80,000 chemicals on the market find their way into our routines through our food, our water, our air, and the consumer goods that we use daily, from plastic water bottles to personal care products like make-up and shampoo.
The past two decades have brought a growing body of research that has found that the old adage (still in common use by the chemical industry) "the dose makes the poison" is actually quite far off. Chemicals commonly found in consumer products, (even in small amounts) can have remarkable effects on human and animal endocrine systems. Endocrine glands, which include the ovaries and testes, release carefully-measured amounts of hormones into the bloodstream. Americans ingest (or absorb) chemicals that mimic or inhibit this complex system on a daily basis.
Phthalates, a family of industrial chemicals found in baby toys and in nearly ¾ of personal care products tested in a 2002 study (PDF), have been linked to the feminization of baby boys, declining sperm count, and a deformation called hypospadias, a condition where the urethra occurs on the bottom of the penis instead of the tip. Recently, phthalates and other endocrine disruptors have also been linked to obesity.
Dr Earl Grey, a senior scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has conducted numerous studies on the effect of low-dose phthalate exposure that is consistent with our real-life exposure. His work with lab animals reveals that male reproductive development is extremely sensitive to some phthalates, and that damage to the male reproductive system can begin in utero.
Difficulty conceiving a child, a growing problem in the United States, and prolonged reproductive health problems are reason enough to worry about our constant exposure to phthalates and other reproductive toxins and endocrine disruptors. But the declining health of wildlife is another reason we need to make ourselves aware—quickly.
The bibliography of scientific studies listed on the Our Stolen Future website, (and in the book itself) reveals an alarming list of wildlife populations that appear to be impacted by the chemical burden in nature. The Florida panther, numerous species of frogs, Chinook salmon, and polar bears (as if they don't have enough problems) are all on the list of wildlife whose populations are likely impacted by endocrine disruptors. Wildlife populations have deforestation, climate change, human encroachment, smog, pesticides and other seemingly insurmountable threats to their health. We need to do our best to make sure that chemicals in consumer goods are not adding to the problem.
As is often the case, the European Union (EU) is far ahead of the United States on chemical policy. In 2003 the EU amended its cosmetics directive (76/768/EEC) to ban the use of chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects. The amendment went into force in September 2004 and bans 1100+ carcinogens, reproductive toxins and mutagens from cosmetics and other consumer products. Included in the list are tdi-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the other hand has absolutely no power to test the safety of personal care products before they go to market, and has only banned nine ingredients from these products. This is unacceptable, and needs to be changed.
After major public pressure from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and because of the EU's ban, some major cosmetics companies have agreed to remove two phthalates (DEHP and DBP) from products sold in the United States. But we can't stop there. The Campaign is working to safeguard our reproductive health and the health of the environment by changing the market and the lack of government regulation. For more info, and to join our listserv, please visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.