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Chemicals in the U.S.: “innocent until proven guilty”

The system for regulating chemicals in the United States is broken. “Chemicals in the United States are too frequently, almost always, allowed on the market without adequate safety testing,” explains the Environmental Working Group’s Bill Walker. “We let them out on the market and then 20 years down the line we find that they’re building up in people and that they have known or suspected health affects and then we have to sort of” work backward to ban them.”

The battle to ban teflon- or its key chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)- was joined by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and resulted in DuPont paying out a 16 million dollar settlement for not disclosing the extent to which they’d found PFOA in the world’s blood supplies.

“It would be hard to imagine a chemical that is more widespread in our environment,” said the EWG’s Kenneth Cook of the PFOA chemical which is linked to cancer and organ damage in lab animals. “It is found everywhere from babies in the womb to whales in the ocean. And beyond that, it is indestructible in the environment. It lasts forever.”

While DuPont has agreed to a voluntary phasing out of PFOA- used in everything from non-stick cookware to carpets, clothing and food packaging- the larger point remains: Americans are not being protected from potentially harmful chemicals.

“Every day, consumers rely on household products that contain hundreds of chemicals.  The American public expects the federal government to keep families safe by testing chemicals—but the government is letting them down,” argues Senator Frank R. Lautenberg.  “We already have strong regulations for pesticides and pharmaceuticals—it’s common sense that we do the same for chemicals that end up in household items such as bottles and toys.”

Lautenberg, along with fellow senator Barbara Boxer and representatives Hilda Solis and Henry Waxman have introduced legislation to help change this, and they’re focusing on the more defenseless segment of our population. The Kids Safe Chemicals Act would place the burden of proof on the chemical industry to show that chemicals are safe for children before they are allowed on the market.

In this video, EWG’s Bill Walker explains this new act; how current U.S. chemical legislation- the Toxic Substances Control Act– grandfathered in more than 62,000 chemicals despite evidence that some pose serious health risks. He also talks about the EWG’s role in bringing to light the Teflon scandal and how despite the phasing out of PFOA, our environment- and the blood of everyone on the planet- will be forever affected by its history.