The Guardian, a non-profit media outlet, recently began publishing a wide ranging series of stories focused on chemicals in the United States. Sadly, in those stories, they decided to peddle misinformation and promote well-worn accusations from anti-industry activists that can create unnecessary fear and confusion about the products we use in our daily lives.
These stories would have readers believe that chemicals are making us all sick and harming the environment. The reality is that we enjoy healthier and longer lives thanks in part to the ways chemistry is applied all around us from lifesaving medical devices to air bags to clean drinking water. Chemicals are also critical to the creation of innovative products and technologies that help protect the environment, including solar panels, energy efficient cars and buildings, wind turbines and many more.
Consumers want to know that the products they purchase—from sunscreens to bike helmets to laundry detergent—will perform as expected, provide the desired benefit and that the chemicals that make up these products are safe for their intended use. Through extensive scientific research, real-world safe exposure levels are established for ingredients used in products. It’s important to know that the mere presence of a substance does not imply that a chemical will lead to adverse effects. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes, “The measurement of an environmental chemical in a person’s blood or urine does not by itself mean that the chemical causes disease.”
ACC and its members work with retailers, suppliers, customers and others in the value chain to foster the safe use of chemicals and provide scientific and safety information about chemical ingredients in products. We also developed the Responsible Care® Product Safety Code to drive continuous improvement in chemical product safety as part of the industry’s signature environmental, health, safety and security management system.
Our government also plays an important role in protecting human health and the environment. Contrary to the impression given by The Guardian’s stories, chemicals in commerce are subject to government oversight by six primary federal agencies:
Those agencies operate under more than a dozen federal laws and regulations. Today, any chemistry introduced or imported into the U.S. must undergo rigorous review and approval processes by federal agencies including EPA and FDA.
After reading through The Guardian’s series, it’s clear that their readers are being misled by much of the information in the stories. That’s why we’ve put together a fact checker on some of the inaccurate claims they make. You can read the facts below. We’ll do our best to continue updating this page over the next six months, but we can’t promise we’ll catch all the falsehoods and inaccuracies because there are a lot:
The Claim: EPA only has 90 days to review new chemicals before they can go to market.
The Facts: The 2016 Lautenberg amendments to TSCA require EPA to review and make an affirmative safety determination of a new chemical submission (known as a premanufacture notice or PMN) within 90 days. If the agency cannot do so within that time frame, they can request an extension. However, the chemical cannot go to market if the submitter of the PMN submission doesn’t agree to an extension and a safety determination is not made by the agency.
Learn more on EPA’s TSCA website.
The Claim: Only one percent of the chemicals in commerce have been properly tested.
The Facts: All new chemicals are subject to an EPA safety review before they are used in products. And, under the 2016 amendments to TSCA, EPA has even greater authority to review any chemical, at any time, to protect public health and the environment. Plus, more than a dozen other laws and six federal agencies help regulate the use of chemicals.
So, for more than 37 years, the number of new chemicals that have come to market without U.S. EPA review has been ZERO.
EPA has also taken regulatory action on chemicals more than 2,600 times under the new chemicals review program. That doesn’t account for the more than 2,000 chemicals that have been withdrawn from the approval process before EPA ever took regulatory action on them.
The Claim: “We should try to limit our exposure to essentially all chemicals.” – Philippe Grandjean
The Facts: There is no way to limit exposure to chemicals. It is impossible because everything—including our bodies—is made of chemicals. There is no such thing as “chemical free.”
So maybe he is trying to say we should avoid man-made chemicals? That is also a misleading claim. A chemical is not more hazardous simply because it is synthetic, and a chemical isn’t safer simply because it is natural.
Any chemical—even water and oxygen—can be toxic if too much is ingested or absorbed into the body. The important thing is to understand hazard, exposure and risk. The terms “risk” and “hazard” may seem to have very similar meaning to most of us, but to a scientist they are actually very different. With respect to chemistry, the terms have very specific meanings:
Hazard refers to the inherent properties of a chemical substance that make it capable of causing harm to a person or the environment.
Exposure describes both the amount of and the frequency with which, a chemical substance comes into contact with a person, group of people or the environment.
Risk is the possibility of a harm arising from a particular exposure to a chemical substance, under specific conditions.
All three have to be taken into account in order to determine, for example, whether a chemical ingredient contained in a consumer product has an adverse effect on human health. Why? Because you must consider the chemical ingredient’s hazard profile; whether or not the consumer is actually exposed to the substance when using the product (just because a chemical substance is an ingredient in a product does not mean a consumer is ever actually exposed to it); and, if there is exposure, at what amount and what frequency.
You can learn more at the Chemical Safety Facts website.
The Claim: Never reheat food in plastic containers.
The Facts: All plastic food packaging materials—whether or not it’s microwave-safe—must meet stringent FDA safety standards. The agency undertakes a safety review for all new food-contact materials before permitting them on the market.
In fact, many plastic containers are designed specifically to withstand high microwave temperatures. It’s easy to check to see whether a plastic container or wrap is safe to use in the microwave.
To see if a plastic container or wrap is microwave-safe, check the label:
Some types of plastics, such as plastics used in butter tubs and deli containers, are designed for cold food storage, not for reheating. If the container in question is not labeled for microwave use, put your food in a container that is before heating it in the microwave.
For more information about plastics in food packaging, visit the Chemical Safety Facts website.
The Claim: The World Health Organization categorized glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—as a “probable human carcinogen.”
The Facts: That is factual, but they fail to mention that determination flies in the face of the overwhelming consensus of other government agencies in the U.S., Canada, the EU, Germany and New Zealand. You can get more facts here.
To provide some context, consider the WHO program that made that determination has also classified red meat, hot beverages, working as a hairdresser and working night shifts as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” It’s also important to note that only one substance out of the 1,001 substances evaluated in 46 years by the WHO program has been categorized as “probably not carcinogenic.”
The Claim: ACC is actively working to fight chemical regulation.
The Facts: ACC regularly works on the federal, state and local level to promote policies and regulations that are risk-based, grounded in the best available science and protective of public health and the environment while allowing our industry to innovate, grow and create good jobs.
While there are sometimes disagreements between different stakeholders about public policies and regulations concerning chemicals, we seek to be a constructive participant in the discourse about them.
The Claim: Phthalates’ effects on humans have not been studied extensively, but they are believed to be an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can alter hormonal balance and potentially cause reproductive, developmental and other health issues.
The Facts: High molecular weight phthalates have been extensively studied for more than 20 years and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies world-wide. These agencies have concluded that phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels. Information collected by the CDC over the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, typical consumer exposure is extremely low—significantly lower than levels of concern set by regulatory agencies.
The Claim: In 2008, Congress passed a bill to ban or restrict the use of eight types of phthalates in certain children’s products, a rule finalized by the CPSC.
The Facts: In 2008, the Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act permanently banned three phthalates at concentrations greater than 0.1 percent in children’s toys and childcare articles and created a temporary ban on three additional phthalates (DINP, DIDP, and DnOP) in children’s toys that could be placed in a child’s mouth and childcare articles. In 2018, the CPSC ban on DINP in toys and child-care articles became permanent and was extended to all children’s toys and child care articles for concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of DINP and seven other phthalates. CPSC removed the interim prohibition on the use of DIDP and DnOP in toys and childcare articles after determining that they do not cause adverse effects on male reproductive development and that other risks attendant to their use are low.
Claim: BPA…“is thought to be an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen in the body, potentially causing adverse health effects.”
The Facts: The term endocrine disruptor is commonly used in media reports with no further definition, but based on the World Health Organization (WHO), we can determine whether BPA really is an endocrine disruptor. The WHO/IPCS definition is widely accepted worldwide by scientists and regulatory agencies alike. “An endocrine disruptor is an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations.” (WHO/IPCS, 2002)
While BPA is weakly estrogenic (as are soy and sunshine) the CLARITY study confirms that BPA causes no adverse health effects. There is no risk of health effects at typical consumer exposure levels to BPA, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Further, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted a comprehensive review of BPA and stated “It is not possible to conclude that BPA is an endocrine disruptor,” based on criteria set by the WHO.
The Claim: “Recent (BPA) research has linked the chemical to a wide range of health conditions in human and animal studies….”
The Facts: The story cites a 2007 study (calling it recent), but fails to mention the FDA CLARITY Core Study, which is the largest ever study conducted on BPA and just released in 2018. CLARITY is a multipronged, U.S. federal government research program designed to assess the potential health effects of long-term exposure to BPA. The Core study’s Principal Investigator stated in a recent webinar in which the study results were discussed in detail that, “BPA did not elicit clear, biologically plausible, adverse effects …” at levels even remotely close to typical consumer exposure levels.
The significance of this result for consumers cannot be overstated. In a statement released in conjunction with the study’s draft report, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the FDA said: “our initial review supports our determination that currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumers.”
Importantly, the draft report was peer-reviewed by a panel of independent scientists convened by National Toxicology Program (NTP). The CLARITY Core Study was conducted by FDA researchers at FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research. The methodology for conducting the CLARITY Core Study is consistent with established testing guidelines and the study was conducted according to Good Laboratory Practice requirements to ensure study quality.
The Claim: “Harmful chemicals cost the US $340 billion a year.”
The Facts: This claim is based on a 2016 paper by Trasande et al. that is part of a series of EU and US cost estimate papers that have come under scrutiny for their lack of scientific rigor and credibility. The individual citing the figure in the Guardian series was the lead author himself.
A critical review of the cost estimates published in in the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Toxicology uncovered “substantial flaws in the approach taken” that allowed the authors to generate the improbably high cost estimates. Notably, the authors implicated substances that do not meet the World Health Organization’s widely-embraced definition of an EDC. They then attempted to link those substances to specific health effects and lost IQ based on cherry-picked studies that have been disputed by independent scientists. An Editorial published in Archives later echoed the conclusions of the critical review.
Consumers should know that the U.S. EPA has been evaluating chemicals for endocrine disrupting potential since the late 1990s through its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP). To date, the vast majority of the endocrine active substances that scientists have studied have not been demonstrated to cause adverse health effects at typical exposures as a consequence of endocrine activity.
Learn more at EndocrineScience.org