For two years I’ve been blogging about whether we really need government regulation of the chemicals commonly used in both personal care products and household care products.
I’ve not just been blogging, as I’ve shared here, but asking questions of just about everyone I’ve come across who has a connection to the chemicals and personal care industries.
I first went directly to the source. But Johnson & Johnson – who spends millions “courting bloggers” according to this Ad Age article – wouldn’t answer my questions about chemicals reform – even after a phone conversation, email, and a blog post. (Maybe they’ll answer my questions next week, when I see them at BlogHer).
And the industry council, The Personal Care Products Council? They wouldn’t talk either.
So I asked a professor of environmental science about the issue. “It’s bad,” she said. “Really bad. Nobody really knows what the impact is of all these chemicals.”
I stood up at the annual meeting of the Soap and Detergent Association and asked my questions. All I got in return was a bunch of non-answers from a lawyer who was clearly trying to evade the issue. It was frustrating, and it caused my skepticism to grow.
I asked the chemicals industry consultant who sat across the aisle from me on a long plane ride. Just like the professor, he acknowledged that the industry really doesn’t know the cumulative impact, but it didn’t look good. They could go with other chemicals, but they’re more expensive and it’s a cumbersome process to change.
“Why don’t they resolve it within the industry and avoid regulation?” I asked. “The regulatory process is just a waste of tax payer money. Industry could do a better job of fixing the problem anyway than via government oversight.”
“I tried to get them to do that,” he said. “But they’re afraid of litigation. If one company admits that there’s a problem with their ingredients, the lawyers will come after them.”
Here was a guy who was clearly frustrated – and disgusted.
The fact is, there’s no incentive to find out what the cumulative impact is of repetitive exposure to everyday chemicals. There’s disincentive.
The introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act purports to change that. Its supporters tied the launch to the debut of a controversial new video by Annie Leonard of “Story of Stuff” Legend. In just 10 days, it’s already racked up nearly 200,000 views.
But just like the truth, the stories I’ve been told are not all one-sided.
There was the brilliant toxicologist who spent 30 minutes with me, discussing the issues in the clear, straightforward way that is common to really bright people who can distill an issue down to its simplest elements.
He denied that his company made one version of product for sale in the EU, where chemical laws are tougher, and a different version in the US.
He also railed against the EWG, saying that their database distorts science and scares people (essentially the same arguments the formaldehyde lobby made on my blog, but stated in a much nicer way!)
And he’s not the only one. Quietly, even organic and natural beauty advocates say the same thing.
Has the EWG stretched their case to make a point? Perhaps.
But would we have come this close to having government re-examine the safety of our everyday products were it not for the efforts of the EWG? Of course not.
Just five days ago, a rebuttal was posted to The Story of Cosmetics. Far from 200,000 views, The Critique of The Story of Cosmetics has attracted just 12,750 views. But of course I watched it just to see if it answers my questions.
It didn’t. Never does the critic address the central issue at stake: what is the impact of the cumulative exposure of these chemicals?
I read the response issued by the Personal Care Products Council to the Annie Leonard Film. It doesn’t address the issue either.
And now I feel confident I know why.
They just don’t know.
It’s not how business works. Each company is worried about its own products – not the interaction of their products with others.
So what can a consumer do?
1. Use fewer personal care products, particularly if you’re pregnant or someone who may wish to become pregnant (or impregnate someone! – yes, chemicals like phthlates have been linked to decreased sperm count). Avoid personal care products for infants and young children.
2. Consider products that can be used for more than one purpose. (Guess what? Most of the “special uses” are all about marketing anyway!)
3. Think organic and natural (yes, I realize they contain chemicals, but not the types of chemicals that are linked to hormone disruption).
It’s all very confusing. And to make things even more so, a coalition of independent cosmetics makers (you know, the sweet ladies who sell natural and organic make-up on Etsy and at the local fair) have come out in opposition to the Safe Cosmetics Act. They’re concerned that the bill’s requirements will put them out of business. While the supporters of the SCA dispute that, it’s easy to sympathize with these women. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the government made a mess of CSPIA legislation, driving similar small businesses (consignment shops and the like) out of business.
Thanks for reading this far! A long post I know, and without all the links, which I’ll add in shortly!
I want to hear your thoughts as well. What do you think about the debate over cosmetics and the SCA?
This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Cosmetics, to be hosted here at OrganicMania.
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