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Chemical Policy

February 12, 2014

In our rush to create new and labor-saving products, we have created more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals in use today in the United States. No more than 1,000 of these have been evaluated for their human health effects even though we have known for the past decade that the vast majority of them are absorbed into our bodies.

There was a 17 percent increase in the prevalence of developmental disabilities in children from 1997 to 2008. Prenatal exposures to lead have been specifically linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pregnant women exposed to phthalates (found in many plastics and personal-care products) have been associated with functional abnormalities similar to those seen in ADHD.

Although cancer mortality rates have decreased as a result of early detection and improved treatment, data from the National Cancer Institute show that the incidence of most childhood cancers has increased in the U.S. over the past three decades. The environmental agents linked to these cancers include toxic chemicals such as solvents, paints, chemicals associated with the use of vehicles, and metals.

Our country lags far behind Europe in requiring the identification and human health evaluation of synthetic chemicals before they are on the market. In fact, it currently requires a product to attract the public's attention by the obvious sickening of children or adults prior to investigation of these toxics. The U.S. desperately needs a chemical policy that allows us to identify hazardous and harmful chemicals prior to them going on the market and reduces exposures to environmental toxins.

Unfortunately, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which seeks to update the woefully outdated laws by which we regulate synthetic chemicals, is lacking in critical areas. It fails to protect the most vulnerable in society including children, and it pre-empts states' authority to establish their own more protective rules, among other major flaws.

Congress must reform our chemical regulatory legislation rapidly. It must protect pregnant women, children and vulnerable communities; remove the red tape on the Environmental Protection Agency that prevents it from regulating chemicals properly; allow states to pass their own more stringent laws on toxic chemicals; and move the market toward safer use of chemicals.

Dr. Myrtis Sullivan, president, Cook County Physicians Association

— Dr. Robert Panton, president, Chicago Medical Society

— D. Sarah Lovinger, executive director, Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility

— Dr. Peter Orris, senior adviser, Health Care Without Harm

— Dr. Simon Piller, vice president, Doctors Council SEIU

Published in the Chicago Tribune, February 12, 2014

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