Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Precaution For Health

Some time ago, Co-Op America published an article called “The Ugly Side of Cosmetics,” detailing why many experts are concerned about the vast number of potential toxins in body care products.

That article cited studies showing that many of the body care products we use on a daily basis—from make-up and hair care products to soaps and baby wipes—contain known or probable carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and other potentially harmful substances.

A group of individuals started discussing the article on an Internet message board. At first, they were concerned - until a young woman popped in and reassured everyone that “I’m a chemistry major, and all of these products are safe. The government wouldn’t let them be on store shelves if they weren’t.”

Like that student, many people have considerable faith in the government to protect them, assuming that if a product of any type is sold in the US, it must be safe for human health and the environment.

That faith is misplaced. As evidenced by the recent news reports about ingredients and products made in China. In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics discovered lead in several trusted brands of lipsticks still sold today in US stores, from drugstore stalwart L’Oreal to the more exclusive Dior brand.

We have more than just lead to worry about. There are now some 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the US, and more than 2,000 new chemicals are introduced each year. While the government does require health studies and pre-market testing on prescription drugs, it does not do so for most other chemicals.

Take a close look at the cleaners we use in our homes; the pesticides that we spray on our food; the hormones ingested by our meat or dairy animals; the paints and stains and finishes we use on our cars, furniture, mattresses, or walls; the body and hair care products we use on ourselves, you’ll find that very few of them are independently tested to ensure they won’t harm human health or the environment.

While corporations may save money by not conducting health and safety tests on the ingredients they use, it’s consumers who pay the price. “So much of public health and environmental policy relies on what I call the ‘dead body’ principle,” says Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director of the Science and Health Environmental Network (SEHN).

“When you wait for proof before you take action, the proof is usually in the dead bodies and the sick bodies. When you let the chemical out and haven’t tested it, you’re using our bodies as lab rats.”

When Carolyn Raffensperger was a young girl, her father, a pediatric surgeon, came home from work and made an announcement that would reverberate throughout her life.

“He said he believed the birth defects and childhood tumors that he was a world expert on were caused by pollution,” says Raffensperger. “And when he told me he couldn’t do anything about it because he couldn’t prove it, I was stunned. He was seeing suffering in babies, and they hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Why, I wondered, did he need proof before he could take action?” Read the entire article and also learn more about the Precautionary Principle.

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