Daily News Archive
From October 18, 2006                                                                                                        

U.S. Continues Sale of Toxic Products Banned Overseas
(Beyond Pesticides, October 18, 2006)
The United States continues to keep its markets open to products Europe and Japan have deemed unsafe, essentially making the country a dumping ground for hazardous chemicals. The list of toxic products includes several of the most widely used pesticides in the U.S., raising questions not only about possible health impacts on Americans but also about the U.S. regulatory system.

As the European Union (E.U.) and other nations have tightened their environmental standards, mostly in the last two years, manufacturers — here and around the world — are selling goods to American consumers that fail to meet other nations' stringent laws for toxic chemicals.

Wood, toys, electronics, pesticides and cosmetics are among U.S. products that contain substances that are banned or restricted elsewhere, particularly in Europe and Japan, because they may raise the risk of cancer, alter hormones or cause reproductive or neurological damage.

Michael Wilson, Ph.D., a professor at UC Berkeley's Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, said the United States is becoming a "dumping ground" for consumer goods that are unwanted and illegal in much of the world. Dr. Wilson warned earlier this year in a report commissioned by the California Legislature that "the United States has fallen behind globally in the move toward cleaner technologies."

"The dumping problem is concentrated in a few product sectors. But these sectors happen to be really ubiquitous in the everyday lives of Americans. Chemical risks are being spread all over the country in ways that are invisible to consumers," added Alastair Iles, Ph.D., an international chemical policy expert who was a research fellow at UC Berkeley and still works with faculty there on consumer issues.

The E.U., driven by consumers' concerns, has banned or heavily restricted hundreds of toxic substances in recent years, invoking the "precautionary principle," which is codified into law and prescribes that protective steps should be taken when there is scientific evidence of risks to public health or the environment.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies have relied on voluntary steps from industries rather than regulations, saying the threats posed by low levels of chemicals are too uncertain to eliminate products valuable to consumers or businesses.

Industry groups say their products have undergone rigorous reviews in the U.S. and are not only legal here but safe. They claim some governments, particularly the E.U., have overreacted and banned chemicals with little or no evidence of a human health threat.

In stark contrast, EPA hasn't eliminated any industrial compounds since it sought unsuccessfully to ban asbestos 18 years ago. Unlike E.U. policies that embrace the precautionary principle, U.S. law requires EPA to prove a toxic substance "presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment," consider the costs of restricting its use and choose "the least burdensome" approach to regulate industry.

Regardless of the regulatory system, selling products with risky chemicals to Americans while removing them for consumers elsewhere is shortsighted, said Robert Donkers, the European Commission's Environmental Counselor in Washington, D.C.

"If companies decide to wait and see rather than innovate, they will lose the market," he said. "American consumers follow closely what is happening in other parts of the world. So they can say, 'Hey, you make them in Europe, why don't you sell them to us?'

"Legally, you can still use these chemicals, but you're not doing your company any favors."

Several of U.S. agriculture's most popular herbicides and insecticides, including atrazine, endosulfan and aldicarb, are illegal or restricted to emergency uses in other countries. Examples of other products of concern include formaldehyde, which is found in plywood, and phthalates, which are frequently found in toys, cosmetics, nail polish and other products.

Source: L.A. Times

TAKE ACTION: Email EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson ([email protected]) and tell him the U.S. is not a dumping ground, its citizens must be protected against toxic substances and we deserve to be protected by a regulatory system that operates on the precautionary principle.