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Children are More Vulnerable to Toxic Chemicals; Pediatricians Push for Better Regulation


The American Academy of Pediatrics has joined the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association in voicing its concern about the US government’s regulation of toxic chemicals. The organization notes that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has not been updated since 1976, leaving those most vulnerable – infants and children - at risk.

The objective of the TSCA is to allow the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate new commercial chemicals before they enter the market, to regulate existing chemicals when they pose an unreasonable risk to health or the environment, and to regulate their distribution and use.

Section 6 of the act allows the EPA the authority to ban manufacture or distribution of chemicals. Among those under regulation currently are asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), lead, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Unfortunately, the law is “so weak”, the EPA cannot fully use its authority to rid industry of all dangerous chemicals, notes Sarah Janssen, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. For example, asbestos is noted to have “no safe level of exposure” so exposure to friable asbestos “should be avoided”, notes a summary of the TSCA on the website of the Environmental Protection Agency. But the act only requires that information warning the public about asbestos be presented and that companies that use the chemical comply with certain regulatory standards.

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Janssen also notes that companies are required to notify the EPA about new chemicals they manufacture, but aren’t required to test them for safety. Only about 15% of notifications include health or safety data, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that children’s developing brains and bodies are far more vulnerable than adults’ to toxins. The latest research also shows susceptibility to many health conditions in the womb, making pregnant women also at higher risk when exposed to chemical substances.

Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 this month in Congress. This legislation would require safety testing of all industrial chemicals and puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order to get on or stay on the market. The act is co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (CA), Charles E. Schumer (NY), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and Al Franken (MN).

Since the original Toxic Substances Control Act took effect, the EPA has tested only 200 of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce. Kelly Semrau, spokesperson for SC Johnson, maker of Raid and Windex, notes, "Chemically formulated products can be found under nearly every kitchen sink in America, and it is important that the regulation of these products is up to date."

For more information about the health effects of toxic chemicals:
Pesticide Exposure Consistently Linked with Lower IQ
Children Plus Pesticides Don't Mix, Lead to ADHD
Pollutants and Pesticides Linked to Type 2 Diabetes