The U.S. is not doing enough to protect kids from exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals, pediatricians said in a new statement released today.
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The policy paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics explains that a law meant to inform the public about the risks of different chemicals, and to give the government the right to intervene to keep dangerous chemicals off the market, has largely failed to achieve those goals.
And, writes Dr. Jerome Paulson, part of the AAP's Council on Environmental Health, the consequences of that may hit kids the hardest, and in unpredictable ways.
"Children are not little adults," Paulson, of Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told Reuters Health. "Their bodies are different and their behaviors are different. That means that their exposures to chemicals in the environment are different, and the way their bodies (break down) those chemicals are different."
Kids may be especially vulnerable to chemicals during important periods in development, when their brains and bodies are changing quickly, Paulson added.
He said the goal of the report is to include the voice of pediatricians in current discussions about the need to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976 with the intention of protecting the public against exposure to hazardous chemicals.
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That law has only been used to regulate five chemicals or types of chemicals, Paulson writes.
That's because it gives the companies that make chemicals an easy out, according to the report, not requiring them to research chemicals for safety before those chemicals go on the market.
And without safety data, the Environmental Protection Agency can't prove that any of the 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S. are risky enough to require regulation.
Paulson said that even without more stringent laws on chemical use, the lack of information about just how risky different chemicals are makes it hard for people to avoid those potential risks.
"The reality is, we live in a chemical world, and some of them are benign and some of them aren't, and we don't know" which are and which aren't, Paulson said.
"It makes it impossible for us to understand what people should do to try to protect themselves or their children."
Noting recent surges of concern about bisphenol A in baby bottles and flame retardants, Paulson said that "we can't really deal with these kinds of issues one chemical at a time. We need a better system for screening chemicals before they're introduced into the marketplace, trying as best we can to identify ones that could be problematic ... while at the same time monitoring those that do come on the market."
Michael Wilson, who studies chemical policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said he was "thrilled" to see the new policy paper and that "it's a powerful statement, it's overdue and also timely."
Two weeks ago, New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg introduced for the second time a bill that would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act.
"The problems that we're experiencing today that are very concrete problems ... all of those problems are going to broaden and deepen in coming years," Wilson, who is not connected to the AAP's council, told Reuters Health.
A spokesperson from the American Chemistry Council told Reuters Health in an email that the chemical company representative agrees that the Toxic Substances Control Act needs to be updated, and that the chemical industry is also working with the government to protect kids' health through other means.
Reform of chemical laws would "send a whole new signal to the industry" that the health impacts of its products, especially the impacts on vulnerable babies and kids, are just important as their function and price, Wilson said.
Then, the council pointed out, companies would have incentives to produce safer products, instead of having incentives not to measure health and safety risks at all.