"The list is only going to grow over time," Cranor says.
With the exception of pharmaceuticals and pesticides, the U.S. legal system permits most substances to come in without testing for toxicity, without knowing whether they cause cancer, birth defects, developmental effects, or reproductive effects. Only about 2 percent of 62,000 substances in commerce before 1979 have been reviewed at all for their toxicity by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he says. Of the approximately 50,000 substances introduced since 1979, about 85 percent were allowed to market with no data concerning health effects.
Industrial, often toxic, chemicals are everywhere bisphenol A used in plastic bottles and that lines cans of food; non-stick cooking surfaces or Gore-Tex material that contains perfluorinated compounds; curtains, baby car seats and TV sets manufactured with brominated flame-retardants; and countless cosmetic ingredients, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and other compounds, all of which enter our bodies and remain briefly or for years.
Chemical contamination is so prevalent, Cranor says, "that it will make future human studies more difficult; there will be no clean controls against which to compare people who are contaminated. We are all contaminated. It's a question of more or less contamination. So it's going to be increasingly difficult for the science to detect some of these effects in humans, when they exist."
The legal process for identifying adverse health effects and removing the responsible substances from the marketplace is extremely slow, he says.
"The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to require testing of products before they come in to commerce," he says. "If they appear to pose adverse health effects, they should not be permitted, or they should be required to be reformulated so the problems disappear."
|Contact: Bettye Miller|
University of California - Riverside