Health

Propaganda Most Toxic Element of Chemical Safety Debate

| by Andrew Langer

The war against chemicals continues to rage. The latest assault comes from a group based in Berkley, CA called HealthyStuff.org recently released a new report on “toxic” chemicals lurking in our homes. While their report may make for great headlines and political fodder, it hardly represents good science.

A project of the nonprofit Ecology Center, the group performed “tests” on common home improvement products, specifically flooring samples and wallpaper. Using an x-ray fluorescence (XRF) gun, they claim the ability to detect toxic levels of chemicals in vinyl products.

While an XRF gun can be used to detect the presence of PVC, it does little to tell us about the specific chemicals in these products and provides no insight on the health effects of these chemicals. The plastic additive phthalates, one of the chemicals attacked by the group, was supposedly detected in several of the floor samples. In their findings, HealthyStuff.org asserts that “most vinyl flooring samples contain hazardous chemicals additives, called phthalates, at levels prohibited in children's products by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).”

The flooring sample results show that DINP was one of the phthalates detected in the samples, however, DINP was not subject to the CPSC’s permanent ban on phthalates as the report summary claims. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) bans the use of low molecular phthalates in children’s products but places a narrower, temporary restriction on the use of high molecular weight phthalates like DINP and DIDP. 

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Congress limited the regulations on these phthalates due to decades of study by the U.S. government and independent scientists that demonstrate that these phthalates are safe.

To suggest the mere presence of these phthalates is dangerous is false and irresponsible. This study does not even prove a casual relationship between phthalates and the health effects they claim. No legitimate scientific study has ever proven a direct relationship connecting phthalate exposure to human health problems like asthma and autism. Activists like Shanna Swan have been trying to prove a link to phthalates and health effects for years but have achieved little success.

Instead, there have been several scientific studies demonstrating the use of DINP is safe.  Multiple government agencies including the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Toxicology Program’s Center for Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) gave DINP a clean bill of health. The CPSC conducted a four year study and concluded that soft vinyl toys made with DINP pose "no demonstrated health risk" to children. 

This report is another example of NGO propaganda used to ram precautionary regulations through the federal government. But as we witnessed with the CPSIA, embracing this “better safe than sorry” principle doesn’t necessarily make us any safer or the situation any better. Activist groups demanded that Congress restrict the use of phthalates in toys and children’s products without scientific justification.

As a result, these precautionary regulations increased costs for small businesses and forced manufactures to turn to alternative products that are less-tested. Rather than protect consumers, these regulations wasted millions of dollars in inventory for businesses, and ultimately increased the risks consumer products posed to children.

This new report is part of a well-orchestrated political PR campaign to hijack the debate over chemicals with fear-inducing headlines to illicit an extreme overreaction. In fact, this is the very same group that put out a report on phthalates in toys ahead of Congressional votes on the CPSIA.

When crafting regulations, it is critical that lawmakers resist knee-jerk reactions and sensationalized reports and focus on the real science instead.