This is another area that really should be covered by its own series of posts! It is hard to summarize these posts in to readable segments!
We live in a global economy, meaning that many of the products in our own country come from countries with different standards than our own. Also, when we visit countries, we are exposed to chemicals we might not otherwise be exposed to. Unfortunately, this negates the effectiveness of some of our own laws and regulations. For example, while the United States banned DDT in 1972, it was still in use in the United Kingdom until 1984. Many countries did not restrict DDT’s use until the Stockholm Convention (2004). However, it is still in use as a pesticide for mosquito control in some malaria prone countries.
While I use DDT as an example due to the large amount of information available, many pesticides are not restricted and the foods they are meant to protect are imported in to the United States. As a result, chemicals with unknown outcomes on health are being imported and sold at our local grocers.
This is one area where I think most parents realize that the Federal Government is not funded well enough to protect us from all environmental (chemical) harms. We need to look further than all of the toys recently discovered to contain lead. These products were supposed to be regulated, tested, etc. However, due to a lack of funding, proper tests were not carried out.
This problem—funding—carries over in to the chemical world too—specifically related to the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). Many chemicals were grandfathered in, and the new chemicals? They haven't necessarily been tested or scrutinized either! Taken from an article on the EWG website:
Think about that. 82,000 chemicals registered. A few thousand scrutinized. That means there are tens of thousands out there untested. Some undoubtedly are “safe” (such a relative term…), while others are indeed toxic. The government does not have the budget to test these chemicals.
Since the law passed, more than 82,000 chemicals have been registered with the EPA; environmental health scientist Michael Wilson says only a few thousand have received careful vetting. "The great majority of chemicals in common use have not been adequately studied for their effects on human health," says Wilson, executive director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley. "The big picture is that there's a complete lack of basic public health information."
The Government Cannot Protect You
Many of the chemicals in cleaning products have not ever been tested, as they were developed and grandfathered in prior to the passing of Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). Those chemicals introduced prior to 1979 were issued a "waiver" and assumed to be safe. Now let's think about that...
Take Love Canal, for example…
The same companies that were dumping crap all over our nation, creating numerous Superfund sites, including the very first Superfund site-- Love Canal-- those companies whose products were poisoning our environment and people-- they received a waiver! There is no incentive for companies to test those chemicals. Actually, there is dis-incentive, because if it is found to be harmful, people would stop using that chemical or it could be pulled from the shelf, causing the company to lose money. The more popular the product, the harder it is to show causation in court, which puts the consumer at a significant disadvantage there too.
Absent funding, legislation, and teeth to enforce, the government agencies charged with protecting public health cannot possibly do their job and do it well. As a result, we need to take charge of our health and the products we allow in to our homes. The government cannot protect us.