An article published on December 6, 2018, by Environmental Health News, presents an adopted version of a lecture that Thomas Zoeller, professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, U.S., gave in August 2018 at the “51st Session of International Seminars on Planetary Emergencies: Science for Peace the World Over” in Erice, Italy.
Zoeller summarizes that “chemicals are manufactured for use in almost everything with which humans come into contact.” This results in widespread chemical exposures of the human population, and the reason that these exposures continue on a large scale is “profit and convenience,” Zoeller maintains, in a sense that production and use of chemicals is profitable to industry and convenient for consumers. However, “a hidden issue is that consumers most often are unaware of the chemicals to which they are being exposed.”
Zoeller emphasizes that “humans are born pre-polluted,” as every baby born has industrial chemicals in their bloodstream at birth as an evidence of in utero exposure. At the same time, “there is sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that chemical exposures are currently causing harm to the human population, and that their effects profoundly increase health care costs, decrease the quality of life for millions of people, reduce cognitive function and increase the expression of neurobehavioral disorders, and at least some of these effects can be passed from one generation to the next without further chemical exposures.” In dealing with this situation, Zoeller thinks that “it is important to ask not only why and how the human population has become exposed to hundreds of chemicals, but also why we allow it to continue” (the emphasis is the author’s).
Among the most important reasons for the status quo, Zoeller highlights the fact that “governments employ an antiquated discipline that informs us about toxicity and safety,” based on the outdated concept that only the “dose makes the poison,” despite the evidence of endocrine disruption occurring at low levels of chemical exposures usually considered ‘safe’ (FPF reported). Further, chemical safety is usually evaluated by certain standard tests. However, “there is good reason to question both the sensitivity of these measurements to identify hazards, and the degree to which they reflect hazards to the human population,” Zoeller criticizes. There are also a number of other challenges associated with the risk assessment paradigm currently applied.
Yet another reason “that the status quo of human chemical exposures continues is that financial self-interest motivates campaigns to confuse both the public and regulatory agencies with the goal of limiting or avoiding regulations,” Zoeller observes. He explains that the employed strategies “range from outright fraud and corruption to the selective manipulation of information to make a chemical or product appear safe.” Furthermore, “regulatory decisions are made by government agencies in secret collaboration with the industries that manufacture the chemical,” because “the data provided to regulatory agencies are proprietary.” What is more, the responsible people involved in regulatory decision-making are often “not experts in human health and therefore must necessarily make decisions based on traditional ways of interpreting traditional data.”
Zoeller also questions the “general acceptance that petrochemical-based products are required for modern life and that environmental regulations negatively impact market competitiveness.” He maintains that the human society should be capable of manufacturing “safer products using bio-based feedstocks and green chemistry.” Furthermore, the potential negative impact of environmental regulations on market competitiveness “has been refuted over and over again by a variety of economic studies.” Therefore, the governments that “overtly move to restrict or eliminate environmental regulations . . . are acting neither to protect public . . . not to protect the market.” Instead, they “protect the market share of industries currently dominating the market.” Thus, “the chemical industry and regulatory system has evolved to maintain itself rather than to protect public health,” Zoeller concludes.
The consequences of this status quo include the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases, associated with inflated costs and decreased quality of life. There is also “a cultural cost to the status quo of chemical regulations,” Zoeller warns, because “a large number of chemicals are known to affect brain development and cognitive function.” Furthermore, there is “increasing evidence that the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals can be passed from one generation to the next.”
To change the status quo, “we must first admit that this status quo is not sustainable and is responsible for contributing significantly to human health and global economic challenges.” Only upon that admission will there be “the political will to begin to change this status,” Zoeller emphasizes. He concludes by saying that “reducing chemical exposure should be considered ‘low hanging fruit.’”
Thomas Zoeller (December 6, 2018). “The consequences of status quo chemical policy are becoming increasingly clear.” Environmental Health News