Multiple papers flag serious issues with chemical regulation and public health failures. Julian Cribb reports.
Almost every human being is now contaminated in a worldwide flood of industrial chemicals and pollutants – most of which have never been tested for safety – a leading scientific journal has warned.
Regulation and legal protection for today’s citizens from chemical poisons can no longer assure our health and safety, according to a hard-hitting report in the journal PLOS Biology, titled “Challenges in Environmental Health: Closing the Gap between Evidence and Regulations”.
The report describes a chemical oversight system corrupted from its outset in the 1970s when 60,000 chemicals were registered for use in the US, mostly without being safety tested. Many of these chemicals were subsequently adopted as ‘safe’ around the world.
Over the years, public health protection has stagnated – despite mounting scientific evidence that many chemicals are damaging whole classes of organisms, say report editors Liza Gross and Linda Birnbaum.
“We still have safety data on just a fraction of the 85,000-plus chemicals now approved for use in commerce. We know from field, wildlife, and epidemiology studies that exposures to environmental chemicals are ubiquitous,” the researchers say. (European estimates put the number of proposed new chemicals worldwide at over 145,000.)
“Hazardous chemicals enter the environment from the factories where they're made and added to a dizzying array of consumer products - including mattresses, computers, cookware, and plastic baby cups to name a few – and from landfills overflowing with our cast-offs,” Gross and Birnbaum say.
“They drift into homes from nearby agricultural fields and taint our drinking water and food. Today, hundreds of industrial chemicals contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested, in the US and beyond.
“Evidence has emerged that chemicals in widespread use can cause cancer and other chronic diseases, damage reproductive systems, and harm developing brains at low levels of exposure once believed to be harmless. Such exposures pose unique risks to children at critical windows of development - risks that existing regulations fail to consider.”