The world is full of chemicals. There are some 80,000 of them in commercial use, many of them potentially hazardous to children and pregnant women. Unfortunately there are fewer safeguards than you might think.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement April 25 urging that the government do more to protect those who are most vulnerable to hazardous chemicals, specifically children and pregnant women.
According to the AAP, the Toxic Substances Control Act—TSCA—has not undergone any significant revision since it was first passed in 1976, despite the introduction of new chemicals into the environment since then.
“This was stimulated by the recognition that the current TSCA is totally ineffective,” said Jerome Paulson, M.D., lead author of the newly released policy statement, “Chemical- Management Policy: Prioritizing Children’s Health.” Dr. Paulson is a pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and incoming chair of the AAP Council on Environmental Health.
One of the problems, said Paulson, is that the way the legislation was originally drafted by Congress in 1976 and has subsequently been interpreted by Supreme Court rulings, companies are required to supply information about products only if they have it.
“There’s a disincentive for companies to know the information,” said Dr. Paulson. “If they don’t know it, they don’t have anything to disclose.”
The AAP is not alone in its efforts to change TSCA. The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association have independently developed their own recommendations.
Among the AAP’s recommendations:
• Government regulations consider the consequences on children and their families
• Authority be given to the Environmental Protection Agency to remove a chemical if needed
• Chemicals should meet similar safety standards to pharmaceuticals or pesticides on foods
• Decisions to ban chemicals should be based on reasonable concern rather than demonstrated harm.
“There are a growing number of questions,” said Dr. Paulson. “There are a lot of things that have changed. The growing frequency of health problems in the past 40 years may be due to increased chemical exposure. There’s a whole lot of ‘we don’t know.’ There’s inadequate information about the toxicity of most chemicals, but we’re finding chemicals in blood or urine that were never intended for use in humans.”
Dr. Paulson said that the new policy statement is primarily designed for the AAP to “educate its members about the issue, and educate members of Congress and their staffs.” Concerned parents can be advocates for a change in the chemical management policy by participating in groups that focus on the environment and health and by contacting their Congressional representatives, said Dr. Paulson.
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