CHICAGO – Alarmed by studies showing children are vulnerable to toxic chemicals found in scores of consumer products, the nation’s largest pediatricians group is joining a growing campaign to change how the United States regulates hazardous substances.
In a policy statement to be issued today, the American Academy of Pediatrics condemns a 1976 federal law that largely relies on chemical manufacturers to raise concerns about their products.
Unlike the system for guaranteeing the safety of pharmaceutical drugs or substances added to food, the Toxic Substance Control Act limits federal officials from ordering testing or banning industrial chemicals.
Before chemicals are allowed to be sold, the group says, testing should consider how they can affect children and pregnant women. Decisions to limit or ban substances should be based on “reasonable levels of concern” instead of waiting until it becomes clear that exposure triggers deaths and diseases.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that it knows little about thousands of chemicals produced in volumes of 1 million pounds a year or more. But independent research is raising concerns about dozens of substances used for decades with little or no government oversight.
“We share the frustration of a lot of people that these chemicals are being addressed with sort of a flavor-of-the-month approach,” said Dr. Jerome Paulson, a Washington pediatrician and lead author of the academy’s statement. “The lack of strong federal oversight means there isn’t enough reliable information to give our patients good advice.”
Studies show that children absorb a vast variety of harmful substances, sometimes merely by sucking on a rubber duck, drinking from a plastic bottle or playing on treated carpet. Because they are smaller than adults and their bodies are still developing, they face greater risks from exposure to toxic chemicals.
But when a risk is identified, there is virtually no way for consumers to figure out which products are made with the chemicals at issue. Manufacturers aren’t required to disclose their ingredients, and government officials say confidentiality rules often prevent them from sharing more information with the public.
In recent years there has been a slow but steady effort to change the system. Enough questions have been raised about some hormone-disrupting chemicals. Big retailers like Walmart and Target have told suppliers they won’t carry products containing the substances.
Congressional Democrats recently reintroduced legislation intended to make it easier for the EPA to take chemicals off the market and ensure substitutes are safe. The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group, says it also wants to change the system, but action isn’t expected this year.