5. Europe Blocks US Toxic Products

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Scientific American, September 30, 2008
Title: “European Chemical Clampdown Reaches Across Atlantic”
Author: David Biello

Environmental Defense Fund, September 30, 2008
Title: “How Europe’s New Chemical Rules Affect US”

Democracy Now! February 24, 2009
Title: “US Lags Behind Europe in Regulating Toxicity of Everyday Products”
Author: Mark Schapiro

Student Researchers: Caitlin Ruxton (SSU), Annie Sexton, Gwendolyn Brack, Hallie Fischer, Bernadette Gorman, Paige Henderson, Daryl Mowrey, and Taylor Prodromos
Faculty Evaluators: Robert Girling, PhD, and Jeanette Pope, Professor of Geology
Sonoma State University and DePauw University

US deregulation of toxic substances, such as lead in lipsticks, mercury in electronics, and phthalates (endocrine disruptors) in baby toys, may not only pose disastrous consequences to our health, but also to our economic and political status in the world. International markets are moving toward a European model of insisting on environmental and consumer safety. A European-led revolution in chemical regulation that requires that thousands of chemicals finally be assessed for their potentially toxic effects on human beings and the environment signals the end of American industry’s ability to withhold critical data from the public.

Europe has launched stringent new regulations that require companies seeking access to their lucrative markets eliminate toxic substances and manufacture safer electronics, automobiles, toys and cosmetics.

Dangerous chemicals have been identified via the European Union’s 2007 Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) law, which requires the disclosure of all chemicals sold in the EU in quantities of more than one metric ton per year.

Hundreds of companies located in the US produce or import hundreds of chemicals designated as dangerous by the European Union. Large amounts of these chemicals are being produced in thirty-seven states, in as many as eighty-seven sites per state, according to biochemist Richard Denison of Environmental Defense Fund, author of the report “Across the Pond: Assessing REACH’s First Big Impact on US Companies and Chemicals.”

Of the 267 chemicals on the potential REACH list, compiled by the International Chemical Secretariat in Sweden, only one third have ever been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and only two are regulated in any form under US law.

Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, writes that according to the EPA itself, only five percent of all chemicals in the US have undergone even minimal testing for their toxicity or environmental impact. Researchers at University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health estimate that forty-two billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce daily.  Fewer than five hundred of those substances, according to a report the school produced for the state of California, have undergone any substantive risk assessments.
Over the past decade, the industry has been either the second or the third biggest lobbying force on Capitol Hill, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Between 1996 and 2006, the industry contributed $35 million to federal election campaigns, and spends between $2 million and $5 million each year on lobbying in Washington.  This interest also spent a significant amount on lobbying at the state level. Consequently, new EPA requirements include the “costs to industry” in determining whether a substance presents an “unreasonable threat to public health” and that the “least burdensome regulation” be imposed on industry.

Industry’s evisceration of the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and a host of regulatory agencies, has placed US firms in a position of unaccountability. As a result, American products are increasingly viewed with distrust on the global market.

When Europeans started imposing standards to protect people from dangerous products, the US chemical industry began flooding Brussels with lobbyists. The European Parliament and the European Commission (which are essentially the Congress and White House of the European Union) are now surrounded by Burson-Marsteller and Hill & Knowlton companies, as well as American Chamber of Commerce executives, all lobbying for less oversight of toxic products.

Schapiro observes, however, that to a great extent US-style lobbying doesn’t work in Europe, and in many cases is backfiring.
We are seeing an enormous global shift in power in which multinational companies are adapting to European standards based on the notion that regulation is actually good for business —thus rendering US standards irrelevant.

As a result of the contrast between US deregulation and the spreading European model of regulation, the US has become the dumping ground for toxic toys, electronics and cosmetics. We produce and consume the toxic materials, from which other countries around the world are protected.