In September of 2009, the Chemical Abstract Service, an agency that registers every new chemical as it is invented or discovered, assigned a registry number to the 50 millionth chemical. I think this is amazing considering the natural resources we have. Why do we have to make everything into a chemical? Do you realize that the Chemical Abstract Service began to register chemicals in 1956, and it took 33 years to register the first 10 million new chemicals while the last 10 million chemicals were registered in just 9 months at the rate of 25 per minute! We are accelerating in our use of chemicals.
The identification of 40% of these chemicals is done primarily by scouring research papers from worldwide projects while 60% were from major patent offices worldwide.. So 40% of these are chemicals developed in research projects, some for commercial use, some for other uses like laboratory, medical and industrial materials. The majority of these new chemicals are developed for public use; ie, foods, cosmetics, health products, housing materials.. all materials used by all of us every day.
Being the naturist I am, with a desire to eliminate chemicals from my lifestyle, preferring to use natural resources instead, the idea that the world is swimming in chemicals does not make me feel warm and cozy. In fact, it terrifies me! And to top it all off, the next category on this list was for the newest chemicals, some of them not even listed yet and already available in the catalogs. In other words, the newest chemicals don’t spend a day in the lab.. they are rushed out to your world, where they are all around you, tested or not.
To be fair, I must point out that only about 100,000 of these chemicals are currently in commercial use in the U.S. This is an EPA estimate. But know that this is probably a low estimate since the EU has registered 140,000 and is always registering more.
As readers of this blog know, to our chagrin, not all of these chemicals are tested before being thrust upon us. In fact, we are guinea pigs of sorts. If no one gets sick.. or if they do and can’t factually trace it to a singular, obvious chemical, then those chemicals not thus indicted are considered safe. This is even true for chemicals that are related or similar to products already known to be toxic. Very few are actually put through the paces and tested for safety.
Here are the facts: Of the 100,000 known chemicals in commercial use in America, only 642 have have been studied sufficiently for the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists to set workplace air-quality guidelines for them. As well, only about 900 chemicals have been studied for cancer causing effects and of those tested, they are not tested sufficiently enough to be assessed by the major cancer research agencies. And only 300 chemicals out of 10,000 have been assessed for reproductive or developmental effects or birth defects.
I think that if this doesn’t scare you, you are stoned or asleep. You must realize that we can’t assume the remaining 50 million chemicals used worldwide are nontoxic. In fact, I’ve written on this blog many times over about the chemicals in our food, water, cosmetics, health products and homes. While we are clueless about all of this in general, there is no doubt that at some point many of us will be shocked awake upon contact with something dangerous and possibly fatal.
The real sin is the tolerance of our society for misinformation. We give corporations and medical facilities a pass on just about everything; this although there are thousands of people damaged every year, some of them killed. To add insult to injury, the advertising from most manufacturers gives everyone the impression that all of the ingredients they use in their products have been tested for all kinds of toxic effects, including cancer. But, by God, this is just not true.
When manufacturers offer “new” products, it is often only the chemicals that are changed. Although they call it “new and improved” (to get us excited and off to the store), these products usually are almost identical to the original with only a chemical substitution as the “change” they claim has been made. And it is hardly ever because the chemical they switched out was found to be troublesome; it is most often done to stimulate sales. In fact, the stimulation of new sales is almost always the reason they invent new chemicals!
U.S. law requires that a “new” product or a “new and improved” product has to have at least one ingredient different from the original. So new chemicals are devised and dropped into a product to refurbish it and give it new appeal. This chemical substitution is possible because these “new” chemicals are closely related by formula and structure to the “old” chemicals and also have similar physical properties. So chemical substitution is also a way for manufacturers to alter their products to avoid regulation — often without making the product safer for us to use.
For example, if a chemical is banned, manufacturers can look for another chemical that is almost identical to the banned chemical! I find this abhorrent. I mean, seriously, is ALL about money? When are we going to get sick of this constant chase and kill for money? When are we going to demand something safe and natural and even pay a few more bucks for it? I think this can only happen if we reduce our overall consumption. If we buy less and save our money for only the best, then the marketplace would fall in line. Now, it’s true that they will continue to try to fool us to get our wallets but we have to be careful and wise. Read those labels carefully, look up chemical names on Wikipedia or visit the library and check the Encyclopedias. Forage for stuff and learn to use natural resources. Learn to make your own herbal remedies, cosmetics, food stuffs and household cleaners.
Similar chemicals also often have toxic properties that are similar. And often the replacement chemicals are not studied and don’t even have to be reported as toxic on labels or material safety-data sheets. This is because they are new and have not been reported as toxic by the buying public! Even if this new chemical is related to the dangerous one that has since been banned, it goes right out and into our homes.
There is some hope in Europe, though. The American practice of creating chemicals and putting them into commerce without testing has been judged poorly by the rest of the world and particularly the E.U. They do not want to operate on the faulty U.S. principle that chemicals are “innocent until proven guilty.” And, amazingly, the E.U. has chosen to frame its approach to this problem in the reverse. In short, its position is that chemicals should be “guilty until proven innocent.” Amen for that. Why are we always on the backside of progress? I am thinking the answer to that is far too complicated to address in this post.
The E.U. is now practicing what is called the “precautionary principle.” It assumes that in the absence of test data, you cannot assume a chemical is safe. E.U. regulations requires precautions be taken and the chemical treated as if it were toxic until or unless the manufacturer proves otherwise. In other words: “If you can’t prove your chemicals are safe, you can’t put them on our market.”
The first thing they do, of course, is test the chemical. They understood the absurdity of trying to set safety and environmental policies in the absence of toxicity data. The E.U. then passed regulations that require physiochemical, toxicological and ecotoxicological testing of “all substances manufactured or imported in quantities of 1,000 tons or more.”
Do you realize that, according to educated estimates, there are over 30,000 of these large-volume commercial chemicals on which there are almost no data. And there are even more smaller-volume chemicals for which testing will have to wait. The program under which the E.U. requires this chemical testing is called “Registration, Evaluation, Authorization [and Restriction] of Chemical Substances” (REACH). This process requires each industry to submit the basic test data or the manufacturer will not be allowed to import or sell either the chemical or products containing the chemical anywhere in the E.U. This should eventually put the squeeze on big American corporations, who will not want to give up the European market but will also not want to go through all those hoops for only that one market. Hopefully, the testing results on that stage will filter down into our knowledge base.
What is really exciting is that the first REACH report of chemical test data is scheduled for 2012. By that time, industry will have invented millions of new chemicals, so it’s still a race in which industry is winning. It will take YEARS (dozens in fact) for all of these chemicals to be judged and regulated. In the meantime, so many people are being exposed to dangerous, toxic chemicals and have no recourse but to let it happen. In the meantime, they keep creating new and dumping new crap into our environment. At least the E.U. regulations are making it a race in Europe rather than the compete rout we see here in the U.S.
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