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Look Before You Leap, or Shoot First, Ask Later?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Which of those common expressions matches your outlook on consumer products and chemicals: look before you leap, or shoot first and ask questions later?

Most of us would likely choose the former, and would be surprised to learn that in the US, our government's policy allows companies to make products and use chemicals with few limits until consumers or researchers present proof of problems.

A September 15 Wall Street Journal story describes products and chemicals that receive greater safety scrutiny in the EU than the US. For example, since 1999 officials in Europe have repeatedly renewed a temporary ban on using plastic softening chemicals known as phthalates in baby products such as pacifiers. Mounting research -- such as this new study in the journal Toxicological Sciences -- links phthalates to pregnancy concerns and birth defects at lower and lower doses. However, US officials studied the issue and allowed phthalates to remain in children's toys.

Adults come into contact with phthalates, too. EWG's "Skin Deep" investigation of toxic chemicals in personal care products found that dibutyl phthalate, discussed in the study above, is listed as an ingredient in 86 kinds of nail polish and nine nail treatments.

A new law went into effect this month in Europe, forcing manufacturers to remove chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects from personal care products. This means that face cream purchased in Europe might be better for your long-term health than face cream bought in the US. And companies that sell products on both continents could sell the newer, safer product on one continent, but?the older, toxin-containing version can still be sold to Americans.

The US should enact policies at least as safe as those now in place in Europe; when it comes to our health, safe is always better than sorry.