This article is part two of a series of three about toxins in the home. Part two will focus on government and regulations. Three government agencies will be introduced, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Occupation Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), as well as some facts about the agencies that will shed some light on their effectiveness in keeping toxins out of our lives.
In 1970 in response to public pressure concerning the environment, the EPA was formed by congress. President Nixon said, “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breath, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. “But congress overrode his veto.
The EPA vigorously introduced regulations in it’s opening moves. They halted $100 million projects and banned smoking advertisements on television. A brake was put on advancing chemical technology and the increased creature comforts that such technology provided. Industry was furious and thousands lost their jobs. Shortly afterwards the EPA fell behind in its work after Congress bogged down its work load by ordering it to review every major chemical registered since 1947.
In 1973 the EPA passed a chemical pesticide (DBCP) that was known to cause sterility. During the years one young man worked with the chemical, he was sterile and unable to have a child with his wife. This changed when he stopped working with DBCP and his sterility was reversed. He and his wife had a baby shortly before he died of a brain tumor at the age of 27.
In 1979 the EPA finally issued a ban on DBCP. This didn’t stop a certain manufacturing company from considering production of it. They weighed the possible fines and legal fees and included these in their operating costs. They also weighed the cost of the positive publicity that it would take to reverse the negative publicity that the chemical received in the EPA decision. Eventually they decided not to go ahead with the project.
The process of removing a hazardous chemical from the market can be lengthy. Court battles are often fought between the chemical manufacturers and the EPA. It took twelve years to ban the chemical 2,4,5-T, a pesticide linked to birth defects, miscarriages and even death. The chemical industry put a lot of money into defending it because there was a lot of adverse data. They felt that if 2,4,5,-T was easily taken off the market by the EPA “witch-hunts,” newer chemicals with less data would fall more easily. During those twelve years the chemical was still manufactured and illnesses linked to it continued to be reported. The battle ended only when Dow Chemical decided to stop manufacturing it due to the negative publicity. There was no court ruling!
Chemicals banned by the EPA can still be manufactured within our borders and exported to other countries. Almost a third of the chemicals exported to other countries are not registered for use in America (243 million pounds annually). One-fifth of those have been banned from use in America by the EPA Many of these chemicals are used to grow food that is imported back into the U. S. According to the FDA, in the late 70’s, 10% of all the food imported to the U. S. contained illegal levels of pesticides.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates the safety of the food and drugs we ingest. In order for a new drug to make it to the market it goes through several tests (all done by the manufacturer). First they are screened for possible toxicity and then they are tested on animals. If they are deemed safe by the manufacturer then an application is submitted to the FDA. If the data checks out, the FDA will approve further testing. This further testing is done on humans. If proven effective the company can file a New Drug Application.
In 1977 the FDA banned saccharine due to its link with bladder cancer. This decision caused such an uproar that the FDA backed down and reversed its decision. As with chemicals and pesticides, a drug that is banned by the FDA can still be exported for use in other counties.
OSHA began its operation 27 days after the EPA began. The purpose of OSHA was to free the workplace from hazards that are likely to cause injury or death. OSHA has the power to inspect the workplace, issue citations, and in severe cases, shut down a factory.
In 1972 OSHA was corrupted with politics and was essentially turned into a fund raiser for the Nixon re-election. It took a few years to reverse the corruption and for OSHA to become effective.
By the mid-seventies O. S. H. A was attempting to categorize all of the carcinogenic chemicals in the workplace to aid in providing a safer work environment. The chemicals companies formed a coalition to halt OSHA’s efforts. With a million dollar budget, they were able to downplay the role of workplace carcinogenics in the rising U. S. cancer statistics to only about 5% of all cancer cases.
In 1977 OSHA limited the worker exposure to Benzene to one part per million due to its link with leukemia and deaths. The Industry claimed this standard was too costly and took the case before the Supreme Court to lower the standard. OSHA claimed that no amount of exposure to a known carcinogen is safe. Justice Stevens did not want OSHA to have power to impose enormous costs on industry with its “no safe level” theory and the standard was lowered to ten parts per million. Stevens mentioned that a safe workplace is not equivalent to a risk free workplace.
As with any organization, the number of forces that act upon it affecting its effectiveness are numerous. While the intention of government agencies can be good, they are still parts of greater systems. Effectiveness in bringing about change will take some time.
- Trost, C. (1984). Elements of Risk: The Chemical Industry and its Threat to America. New York, NY: Times Books.
- Davis, L. N. (1984). The Corporate Alchemists: Profit Takers and problem Makers in the Chemical Industry. New York, NY: William Morrow.