Everything on Earth, people included, was made from 92 primary chemical elements and the molecules they formed.
That was the environment modern man was born into 200,000-300,000 years ago, and it remained like that until the interval between World War I and World War II.
In the short time since, hundreds-of-thousands of chemical compounds have been invented, all of them foreign to human physiology, and many of them were allowed to escape into the biosphere.
That’s why every human on Earth, regardless age, has embedded in his or her body hundreds of detectible synthetic chemicals no human has ever carried before.
In its Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the finding of 207 unnatural chemicals in the blood and urine of the American populace. The non-government researchers at Beyond Pesticides puts the figure closer to 500.
The waste is found in blood, mother’s milk, urine and even the umbilical cord attaching mother with fetus. The substances are taken in through the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the medicines we take and other things we come in contact with.
Yes, unnatural chemistry is everywhere, even in the excrement modern man passes into the sewage systems of advanced economies, especially the U.S. Some of the chemical composition of the medicines so many people take comes back to everyone else when they drink from municipal water supplies.
Water treatment plants are not equipped to capture or nullify pharmaceuticals, so partially digested by-products end up in local reservoirs or rivers where “clean” water is released.
Already there are antibiotics, hormones and other veterinarian medicines from livestock excrement washed into many rivers and lakes.
With enough people and animals, that turns out to be a broad mix of hydrocodone (painkiller), ranitidine (acid reflux), hydrochlorothiazide (heart failure) and assorted antibiotics, hormones (estrogen), mood stabilizers and more.
Concentrations of any one foreign substance qualifies as “trace amounts” and are measured in parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb) and parts per trillion (ppt).
But no one should take comfort in those “little numbers.”
No amount of lead in a child’s body is acceptable to the American Academy of Science… The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that “1/70th” of a teaspoon of mercury deposited in a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat.
Just four molecules of carbon dioxide per 10,000 molecules of all kinds causes global warming. That’s a mere 0.0004 percent of the total.
The medical consequences of all the man-made chemistry loose in the biosphere have not been studied well, though enough is known to raise deep concerns in no-nonsense organizations like the Silent Spring Institute, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Environmental Working Group, Non-toxic Kids, Safe Cosmetics and others.
Various studies and empirical evidence give reason to suspect a connection between unnatural chemical debris and Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, autism, birth defects, miscarriages, asthma, Type-2 Diabetes, obesity, early onset of puberty, skin lesions (e.g., Chloracne), liver damage, impairment of the immune system and nervous system and others.
In short, don’t fall for the dismissal of “trace amounts” of background chemistry as insignificant.
It probably is not, especially with so much of it to contend with.
Government protection from chemical waste, particularly at the national level, is far less than generally assumed.
Tough-sounding laws, however, leave the impression that the public has nothing to worry about.
There is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act passed in 1975 that ostensibly protects the populace from those dangerous, widely-used products.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 mandated, procedures for the safe disposal of toxic waste.
The U.S. Toxic Substance Control Act of 1977 spoke of cradle-to-grave accountability by manufacturers for toxic substances they produced and sold.
Five of the worst toxic substances known to science were first on the list for control: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, asbestos, hexavalent chromium and fully halogenated chloroflouroalkanes. Many other compounds were expected to follow.
Super Fund (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980) ordered the EPA to compile an inventory of existing toxic waste sites, oversee the process of cleaning them up and pass on the costs to those who profited by the disposal.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 was supposed to set national compliance standards for harmful emissions, starting with these six:
- Sulfur dioxide (SO2) because it transforms into a diluted form of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere and damages human airways, lungs and blood when inhaled.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx) because it combines with moisture and volatile organic chemistry (e.g., unburned gasoline) in the atmosphere and transforms in sunlight and heat to lung-searing smog.
- Particulate matter (PM) because it works deep into human lung tissue when inhaled and shortens life.
- Carbon monoxide (CO) because it causes headaches in small doses and kills in large doses.
- Ozone (O3) because it is the result of nitrogen oxides melding with volatile organic chemistry in the heat of the sun’s rays. Ozone at ground level is smog. Smog injures and kills.
- Lead (Pb) because there is no safe level of lead in a child’s body, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The standards initially set by the Clean Air Act were to be gradually lowered to take the danger out of those emissions, and other harmful substances were to be added later. Carbon dioxide was not included because (a) there were no ready-to-go alternatives to fossil fuel in 1970 and (b) the fossil fuel industry was far too strong to let such a law come into existence.
After enactment, the intent of the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard was effectively blocked by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, and U.S. air quality in 2018 falls far short of original plans.
The other public protection laws were quietly defanged too, so much so that some states, led by California, enacted their own legislation in an effort to compensate for the protection the federal government didn’t deliver.
The bigger failure of federal law crafted to control chemicals was the U.S. Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).
Because of the complexities of the subject matter, the chemical industry and its lobbyists had a big hand in shaping the law, a not uncommon practice in law-making.
The touted intent of TSCA, explained atmospheric scientist Bill Chameides in 2011, was to protect the public and its habitat from “unreasonable risk of injury… associated with the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use or disposal of chemical substances…”
But that wasn’t the reality, Chameides noted…
- TSCA was never a law to simply protect the people and the habitat from injury “caused by rampant hit-and-miss industrial experimentation with potentially dangerous substances few, including the experts, knew anything about. It was just a law to establish a standard of ‘unreasonable risk of injury’.”
- It is plainly a law to protect the chemical industry against lawsuits, not the consumer against injury.
- It did not include—and does not include—pesticides, much of it laced with dioxins and other known and suspected carcinogens.
- It did not include chemicals rolled-in with products certain to come into direct contact with the human body—food and cosmetics.
Sixty-two thousand chemicals already in existence when the law took effect were exempted from regulation altogether.
No threat assessment was required thereafter.
Just five (5) chemical compounds were initially banned by TSCA. One of those, asbestos, was later removed from the list.
Four new ones were eventually added, and approximately 200 chemicals were tested to determine any danger they might pose for the public.
That was it for 40 years!
Twenty-two thousand new chemicals came on stream between enactment of the law and 2016. Other than listing the new products in its database, EPA did essentially nothing else.
It couldn’t, not with the way the law was written and codified.
The authors of TSCA essentially crafted an impossible set of criteria for adding other toxins to the list of banned substances, explained EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in 2009.
The big hurdle was meeting that “unreasonable risk of injury” requirement Bill Chameides referenced.
Like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
And the chemical industry and its propagandists never saw an ugly chemical. That meant something when TSCA didn’t even require chemical-makers to test new products before producing and selling them.
Essentially, commercial chemicals are presumed safe under the law unless proven otherwise, and manufacturers only have to provide information about the composition of their products “if they have it,” noted the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011.
The cosmetics industry is exempt altogether from regulation under the Toxic Substance Control Act.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), charged with protecting the public, can’t do anything about injurious cosmetics so long as the product has not been mislabeled or contaminated.
“If the product turns out to be dangerous but legal, the government has no recourse,” a former FDA attorney told the New York Times in 2016.
Jackson offered this appraisal of the federal government’s ability to protect the populace and the environment from the dangers of 80,000 largely unstudied chemical concoctions:
“Right now , we are failing to get this job done… not only has TSCA fallen behind the industry it’s supposed to regulate—it has been proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects.”
More of the Same
In 2016, TSCA was amended by congress with great fanfare, but the changes did little more than require EPA to start evaluating the chemicals in its database for dangers they might pose for the public. And a deadline was imposed.
One expert assessment explained the amendment this way: “Within a few years, EPA will have to assess at least 20 chemicals at a time. When that assessment is finished, a new one must start right away….”
Hummm… 20 assessments at a time… maybe a year to do each assessment… 80,000 chemicals… Is that 4,000 years to finish the job??!! Pretty close.
And Scott Pruitt now runs the EPA, so there won’t be any rush.
The joke that is The Toxic Substance Control Act continues to do its thing, but no one is laughing.
What are you/we going to do about that?
We are not helpless.
Indeed, we are complicit in the degradation of our own living space.
It is us—consumers—who keep buying what the chemical industry sells, demanding nothing in return for the billions of dollars we, the people, pour into industry coffers annually.
The nuclear power industry captures and contains its waste, proving that it can be done.
The chemical industry can do the same thing. No way the industry would do that on its own. Obviously, government isn’t going to do it.
Public protection has to be forced on the industry by consumer purchasing decisions and other well-aimed market pressures. With the chemical waste problem, consumers are pretty much limited to those “well-aimed market pressures.”
There are few, if any clean alternatives to the polluting chemicals that plague human habitat. “Market pressures” take more work by consumers, but it’s knowhow they need to become familiar with sooner than later anyway. So be it, therefore.
Below is a starting point for consumers to rein-in the 6th Cause of Environmental Destruction.
Your Body Burden
What burden of unnatural chemistry are you carrying around in your body? And what might it mean for your health and that of your offspring? Getting a fair reading on that information is a logical first-step for anyone interested in joining this fight. Consider the testing and the insights provided by the Silent Spring Institute (www.silentspring.org). Get tested somewhere. Get mad. Then get after the causes!
Individual Consumer Lobby
This is a good place to introduce the concept of the one-person consumer lobby.
The big so-called “regulated” chemical industry that causes so much ecological degradation spends hundreds-of-millions of dollars to (a) protect its polluting products from “government interference” and (b) hide the destructiveness of what they produce and sell from consumers.
Consumers, on the other hand, spend nothing and do nothing to protect themselves and their offspring from the dangers contained in the chemical industry’s great store of insidious, uncontained products.
What’s wrong with that picture?
Maximizing profits by avoiding costs (e.g., cradle-to-grave responsibility for its goods and services) is standard operating procedure in the corporate world.
That the chemical industry is so effective, despite all the laws and oversight put in place to protect the public, is reason for high-fives in corporate boardrooms.
Yes, the chemical industry’s regulatory wins are the people’s losses. As consumers, we make the industry one of the richest in existence and take-back degraded lives in return. Shame on them. Twice-fooled us not.
Let’s start lobbying industry for better, starting with a call for “Certifications of Capture & Retention.”
Start demanding that chemical manufacturers and distributors capture and contain their waste as much as possible.
The nuclear power industry does it. That industry’s waste is not just thrown into the biosphere where everyone else has to deal with it.
Why shouldn’t the chemical industry be just as diligent?
Force the development of certifications that guarantee consumers that waste is captured and contained.
Pump life into the idea with written appeals to key parties to champion the initiative (sample letter to follow). Try…
- Non-toxic Kids
- The Environmental Working Group
- The Consumers Healthcare Products Association
- Consumer Reports
- Public Citizen
- Consumer Watchdog
- The American Consumer Council
Where the capture and containment of chemical waste is not feasible (e.g., pharmaceuticals pooped and urinated into sewer systems), press for certification that manufacturers pair with water treatment agencies to solve the problem.
Start somewhere. Adjust as the better solutions take shape. Don’t give up.
Stay after this huge ecological problem. It cannot be left to plague the next generations. Somewhere, sooner than later, there is a tipping point, and it cannot be pretty.
Learn more about the power of boycotts from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Where the worst offenders can be identified, don’t buy what they sell. Let the polluting firm and its association know that you are doing it (sample letter to follow), and speak out against the product to anyone who will listen, including local radio and television reporters.
Enough consumer push-back will start to show-up on the bottom-line of the targeted polluters.
When it starts costing there, changes will occur. What you say and do matters. You are influential. Be relentless and ruthless; so much is at stake for today’s newborns later in life.
Class Action Suits
With When so much inescapable chemical waste permeating the lives of so many people, the stage is set for class action suits that even the super-rick chemical industry cannot tolerate.
Look into the possibilities (EnvironmentalLawyers.com). Join ranks with other discontents.
Get serious about chemical waste. The great turning point in environmental awareness was the stinging book Silent Spring in 1962 by the quiet biologist Rachel Carson (Silent Spring Institute). She was fed-up with DDT and the other chemical waste of the 1950s. She would be apoplectic in 2018.
We, the people, have the tools to fight the threat today she didn’t have back in her time. Let’s use them!
The most visible, everpresent form of unconfined chemicals in our midst are plastics.
Bottles, cups, packaging, vehicles, furniture, containers and on and on and on. Waste plastics are legitimately inescapable.
They litter and trash great swathes of the land, inland water and the sea. They injure and kill wildlife and add to the burden of unnatural chemistry in every person alive.
Waste plastic loose in the environment is no joke, and the word is out.
In February 2018, the European Union (EU) pledged to “make every piece of plastic packaging found in member states reusable by 2030,” Time magazine reported.
California ponders legislation that would make it illegal for waiters to dispense unsolicited plastic straws, reported The Washington Post.
The cities of Davis and San Luis Obispo already ban the practice.
Seattle, Washington, banned plastic straws and utensils in July 2018.
South Africa, Costa Rica and Thailand are way ahead of the U.S. on these fronts.
Walt Disney World, The Smithsonian Institute and a growing list of restaurants and bars have joined the movement.
Get involved here.
Help turn awareness and discontent into an overwhelming consumer push-back. Today’s children deserve nothing less. Waste plastics everywhere we look is our responsibility. We, the people, buy and discard the stuff. If we cause the problem, we can fix it.
After paying for “over-packaged” products, strip-off the package and stuff it in the nearest plastics recycling bin or trash can.
The more consumers do it, the more it costs merchants to deal with it, the sooner they will tell the manufacturers, “Hey, come get your waste. This stuff is killing me!”
The German’s and other Europeans did it 20-years ago, and the impact reverberates there today (Plastic News Europe).
Join in efforts to make recycling easier by reducing the number of plastic types used in consumer products (Waste Zero). Push for consumer refunds to incentivize plastics recycling. Biodegradable plastic has merit. Check into it.
Every household has a thermometer to measure body temperature for a fever. Litmus gages are familiar for on-the-spot measures of water alkalinity, pregnancy, blood thinners and more. New forms of wristwatches now measure blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and more.
But people have no good, handy way to get a sense of what they are breathing or the content of the water they consume. In the world people live in today, that kind of information would be invaluable.
Why? When it’s the other person who has the problem, everyone else tends to think little of the situation. When it’s us, especially the children, things get personal and immediate. People get aroused, angry, and they want something done. THAT’S WHAT WE, THE PEOPLE, NEED when it comes to the chemical waste wafting around in our living space!
Who among the entrepreneurially-inclined will develop and market good, reliable, low-cost devices to check the chemical composition of the local air, the water that comes from our faucets and the rivers and lakes near our homes. Couple the measuring devices with apps that target the manufacturers and distributors of the pollutants, and consumers can create markets that take the chemical trash out of the lives of today’s newborns by the time they are grown.
The market potential for those measuring devices and apps is huge. The motivation for consumers to buy them grows stronger every day people learn more about the problem.
Just wondering… Are there any non-polluting alternatives that people can divert their spending towards to make a big difference?
Check out the rest of the “Consumer Solutions to the 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction” series now:
- An Introduction to… The 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction
- Solution to Sin #1: Deforestation
- Solution to Sin #2: Coal
- Solution to Sin #3: Oil-based fuels
- Solution to Sin #4: Natural gas
- Solution to Sin #5: Nuclear electricity
- Solution to Sin #6: Chemical waste
- Solution to Sin #7: Water loss & contamination