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Environmental connections to public health >>

New York Times' Kristof Lays Out the Case Against Endocrine Disruptors

Thursday, May 3, 2012

In recent years, the incidence of hypospadias, a congenital malformation of the penis, has doubled. Leading health experts blame this surge on a family of toxic chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which attack the hormone system.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, has written about the expanding evidence that hypospadias and other birth defects in people and wildlife that may be linked to the daily bombardment of endocrine disruptors in household goods, pesticides and other man-made products.

"Shouldn't our government be as vigilant about threats in our grocery stores as in the mountains of Afghanistan?" Kristof asks.

Yes, it should.

Reforming the process by which the Environmental Protection Agency reviews and approves chemicals for commercial use is an issue that generates passionate advocacy. All Americans are exposed to toxic chemicals every single day - even before we are born. And, as Kristof points out, some of these chemicals have the potential to severely undermine our children's health and their futures.

No wonder concerned customers have lost faith in products that aren't "green." It's virtually impossible to walk the aisles of a large retailer in search of diapers without seeing signs marketing products as "BPA-free" or "phthalate-free". The organic industry now hauls in more than $30 billion a year, largely because shoppers don't want to eat pesticides and other synthetic chemicals mixed into food and food packaging.

You don't have to spend much time online to realize that consumers are increasingly angry that cosmetics, blankets, toys, baby seats, sofas and all manner of everyday goods are impregnated with chemicals with unpronounceable names and dubious or non-existent safety records.

Most members of Congress have probably have heard of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. But they might be as alarmed as most Americans when they find out more than 80,000 chemicals, including many endocrine disruptors, have been rushed onto the market with no assurances that they are safe for people.

No parent would knowingly choose a toy contaminated with lead. We're certain the same holds true for those parents - of both parties - who are members of Congress.

People are furious with a federal government they perceive to be too badly broken to serve the needs of average Americans. And they are furious with a chemical industry that floods the market with products that may not be safe. Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Congress and the Obama administration have a real chance to address one source of this anger: regulation of toxic chemicals in consumer goods. Congress and the Obama administration should make sure the EPA gives top priority to endocrine disruptors in the nation's drinking water, because when the water supply is contaminated, everyone is exposed.

No matter which party is in power, the White House and Congress should come together on this very serious and pressing public health crisis. A glass of water should be free of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. So should toys, toothbrushes, countertop cleaners, infant formula and store receipts. That's something we can all agree on.

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