Chemicals, Toxics, & Heavy Metals
An excerpt from Green to Gold (pages 48-49):
"Part of what makes air pollution—and all forms of pollution—more dangerous is the presence of toxic elements. Exposure to chemicals like dioxin and heavy metals such as lead and mercury can create severe public health risks. The fear of cancer or possible birth defects has led to stiff chemical control laws in both the United States and Europe, where a strict precautionary principle is in place."
Since this is such a broad category, the range of scientific certainty is very large. The scientific and regulatory consensus on lead or asbestos, for example, is extremely high. Nobody seriously debates the risk of exposure to these substances anymore. But the list of 'probably' or 'likely' toxics is broad. A few categories are growing in importance and media and government attention, such as "endocrine disruptors" (chemicals used in many household products from detergents to plastics, and which might change hormone levels) and PBDEs (the chemicals in flame retardants, neurotoxins which may affect learning and development in babies and children).
Staying on top of this ever-shifting area is not easy, but here are a few sites, both governmental and activist, which can help.
- Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution, Prevention & Toxins
- UNEP’s Chemical Branch
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pesticides, Metals, Chemical Contaminants & Natural Toxins
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School
- Pesticide Action Network
- Scorecard: The Pollution Information Website
- Coalition Against Toxins
- International Plastics Task Force
- See also our discussion of the role of government and regulators, particularly major initiatives like the EU's REACH which tackles chemicals
Much of the group action so far has been fighting regulation -- the chemical industry is not thrilled with laws like REACH. The proactive work to reduce toxics in business has happened quite often quietly and internally. S.C. Johnson, for example, maker of big brands like Windex and Pledge, has been reducing the use of what it calls "persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic" substances. It calls the systematic program to review all ingredients in its products Greenlist.
Many WaveRiders, from 3M to Intel, have worked to reduce toxics in their production processes. Environmental and CSR reports will highlight some of their work.