Monday, April 22, 2013


Does any one think as to how toxic is the environment where modern mankind live? Probably not! There is a fatalistic perception among the people that because of a "vigilant" government which is supposed protect its citizens from likely dangers faced by them from time to time, they need not be apprehensive about their well being. Unfortunately this very government can be an impediment in providing clean and safe foods and a safe environment. A classical example is the use of over 85000 industrial chemicals reported to be currently in use for one or the other purpose by the manufacturing sector with suspect safety credentials. This is in sharp contrast to rigorous testing regimes imposed on synthetic chemicals permitted to be used in food and drug by the respective industry. It is beyond one's comprehension as to how such a dangerous situation has arisen and why safety agencies, national as well as international, have not bothered to do any thing to alleviate the situation. Here is a take on the sorry situation that prevails in this field in spite of enormous data being generated by science on the safety of many of the industrial chemicals

In its history, the E.P.A. has mandated safety testing for only a small percentage of the 85,000 industrial chemicals available for use today. And once chemicals are in use, the burden on the E.P.A. is so high that it has succeeded in banning or restricting only five substances, and often only in specific applications: polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, hexavalent chromium, asbestos and chlorofluorocarbons. Part of the growing pressure to update federal rules on chemical safety comes from advances in the science of biomonitoring, which tells us more about the chemicals to which we are exposed daily, like the bisphenol A (BPA) in can linings and hard plastics, the flame retardants in couches, the stain-resistant coatings on textiles and the nonylphenols in detergents, shampoos and paints. Hazardous chemicals have become so ubiquitous that scientists now talk about babies being born pre-polluted, sometimes with hundreds of synthetic chemicals showing up in their blood. It often takes a crisis to draw attention to how little the government knows about industrial chemicals in circulation. After the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, at least two million gallons of chemical dispersants were spread to break up the slick. But federal officials could not say they were safe because minimal testing had been done. The current presumption that chemicals are "safe until proven dangerous" stands in marked contrast to how pharmaceuticals and pesticide companies are handled. Companies making these products have to generate extensive data demonstrating the safety of pharmaceuticals or pesticides before they are sold. This was not always the case. Pharmaceutical companies used to be able to sell drugs with minimal prior testing, but that changed after a drug called Thalidomide, given in the 1950s to pregnant women for morning sickness, was found to cause severe birth defects the public outcry helped push the medical field to take a precautionary approach to introducing new drugs.s.   

The specious argument by the chemical industry that such testing if made mandatory will cast a great onus on them to spend billions of dollars in scientific studies and naturally this will have adverse impact on the price front making these chemicals exorbitantly costly. To some extent their plea is understandable but such considerations ought not to come in the way of ensuring the safety of the society. Of course there are plenty of data available readily in the literature and government can always consider them provided those who use them collate the same and submit the same to safety agencies. There can be joint study teams which can vet these data to come to any meaningful conclusion. But it is inevitable that mankind has to face this challenge collectively without further obfuscation.      

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