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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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What is the key obstacle to implementing an effective, health-protective, chemicals management system?

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on September 1, 2010

Americans face widespread exposure to industrial chemicals. Indeed, human exposure to industrial chemicals including flame retardants, BPA, and Teflon-like chemicals, is ubiquitous. We come into contact with these chemicals in a wide range of ways, among them: handling consumer products such as toys and furniture; drinking and eating food with traces of pesticides and other contaminants; living downwind of a factory producing or storing chemicals, with relatively low chronic exposure as well as the threat of a catastrophic leak or spill; working in a workplace involving routine chemical exposure; and using shampoo or sunscreen, thereby applying chemicals directly to the skin.

Along with widespread chemical exposure come uncertain health consequences. Many industrial chemicals are suspected contributors to a wide range of serious health problems. These potential health effects include such chronic diseases and disorders as cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, asthma, infertility, reproductive disorders, developmental disabilities, and behavioral disorders

Industrial chemicals and toxic substances are managed in the US by a complex network of statutes and government agencies, reflecting the disparate routes of exposure. Several agencies regulate chemicals at the federal level, primarily the EPA, the FDA, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Different statutes regulate chemicals in commerce, chemicals in consumer products, chemicals in cosmetics, and pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and food additives. At the same time, there is concern among healthcare professionals that this complex system is not adequately health-protective. For example, the vast majority of chemicals used in commercial products have never been evaluated for potential toxicity (beyond acute toxicity) to developing fetuses, infants, children, or adults.

What is the key obstacle to implementing a health-protective chemicals management system?


The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Responses: Laura Anderko, Devra Davis, Steven G. Gilbert, Maye Thompson, Kristen Welker-Hood


rosemary schroeder said ..

It is our lobbied congress that are truly the evil health-takers of us, the citizens. We MUST expose them somehow through rallies and grass-roots organizations. People generally accept disease and shouldn't. They need to be told. And those that know have a moral duty to present the efidence in the public arena.....with a lot of noise to get the busy Americaan citizen to get it.

June 16, 2011
Raymond Crawford said ..

I hope that you would focus on the hazards of natural gas drilling which is taking our US environment down a toxic waste hole. The DFW region has become a GASLAND.

September 24, 2010
barbara cruickshank RN,MSN said ..

Money and corporate control of our politicians leaves the health and needs of citizens at the bottom of the agenda for our government. Industry, health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, seem to be in control of not only our politicians but the medical community as well. If anyone thinks this is not true, I would encourage them to read the book "Vaccine A - The Covert Government Experiment That's Killing Our Soldiers and Why GI's Are Only The First Victims" by Gary Matsumoto, a respected journalist. It should be required reading.

September 23, 2010
Daniel Kerlinsky MD said ..

We physicians are slaggards in making sure we can order locally and obtain quantitave toxic chemical screening tests on our patients. I have pesticide sprayes, herbicide users, Air Force firemen with terrible long-term effects of toxic exposure who can't get definitive diagnosis. MRI's show high opacity lesions in the inhalation route from bronchioliar patterns to the frontal lobes - but the diagnostic codes of late effects of toxic exposures are often ignored - althout they are clearly numbered in the ICD system. Beyond medical neglect there is government conspiracy. The Defense Department need halogenated hydrocarbon to run high-pressure jet hydraulic systems, cut of rocket burn, and blow circuits clean in high-price weapons systems. State and federal agencieslook the other way in non-enforcement of commercial and residential pesticide use. Phosgene gas production inside the human body from the later breakdown of persistent Halons is ignored. The pharmaceutical companies use huge amounts of phosgene gas to create the toxic drugs whose lenghty side effects we choose to ignore.

September 11, 2010
Richard Weiskopf said ..

Corporate profits and "the bottom line" take precedence over public welfare, human and environmental health and community responsibility.

September 7, 2010
Therese Cushing said ..

Part of the problem is that the chemicals are so common and pervasive that it becomes difficult to educate the public about the relevant issues. The other part is that people do not understand the extent to which chemicals are allowed on the market, and in our households, on the presumption that they are safe until shown to be unsafe. We need to change that, so that people are aware that currently huge numbers of chemicals enter the market regularly without good oversight, until it can be shown one by one, painstakingly and slowing, what harms they may cause. We need to change, so that we use the Precautionary Principle instead. All this is difficult to explain, and we have numerous entrenched interests that will resist the change.

September 6, 2010
jean said ..

the bribes that crooked politicians are taking from big money toxic chemical makers, toxic big pharma, etc. our govt has had its agencies that were created to regulate changed into agencies that work for toxic polluters

September 4, 2010
John M. Ackerman, M.D. said ..

Wastewater treatment plants foster an increase of multi-antibiotic resistant organisms. A variety of chemical compounds (including medications, cleaning agents, hormones facilitate the increased growth of these organisms. In the wastewater treatment plants, the resistant organisms share the genes and gene fragments with other non-resistant organisms. The sanitization methods of all three by-products of the treatment plants (effluent, recycled water and biosolids) do not effectively enough eliminate such organisms and their genetic fragments. These by-products are then sent out to the environment [effluent to our surface waters, recycled water to irrigate municipal lawns and biosolids as an amendment to a.) fertilizer on agricultural and pasture lands and b.) compost for our residential lawns, vegetable and fruit gardens]. Think about the number of food recalls and MRSA (with its potential disfiguring and even fatal sequelae) now appearing in communities themselves (and not just in hospitals) these past several years. It is critical that the medical profession in the Environmental Health Policy Institute include the interactions between the compounds, resistant organisms, the environment and our Public Health. There are multiple references about this combined challenge. (

September 3, 2010
john Radebaugh said ..

This is on of of the most important problems confronting the human species with only a short time to prevent a major threat to earth and its varied species, including humans at this time.

September 3, 2010
susan henderson said ..

The main problem is lack of public knowledge combined with extremely well funded lobbyists. The facts are not intuitive, many health professionals and the probably most of the general public may not realize that our homes and furnishings "off gas toxins" or that babies are born with a body burden of chemicals or that our food industry created so much disease. We have a vision of "America the beautiful". Our country has such vast beautiful land and water that it is hard to get one's mind wrapped around the realty. Who would dream that farmers would give cattle ground up bones and nervous sytem tissue in the feed and that this could transmit Mad Cow Disease. What does the public know about the impact of antibiotics and hormones in animal feed, does the average person have any idea of what goes on in factory farms? So while this imformation may not come readily to the average person even in the best of circumstances; there are huge factions working to keep the public from knowing or understanding. An extremely interesting article to read is in the 8/30 issue of the New Yorker magazine.It is in the Reporter at Large section and titled Covert Operations (p-44) Take the time to read this amazing article.

September 3, 2010
Larry Carney said ..

The big money of the industries behind them, and the supreme court decision that a corporation is a person.

September 2, 2010
lawrence landherr said ..

Political pressure by Congress and members of the Cabinet to change science based conclusions reached by government researchers.

September 2, 2010

Comments closed.