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Fact and Fiction


Fiction #2: There is no evidence of human harm from exposure to (our compound).

Industry routinely claims that chemicals are safe because there are no reports or evidence of human harm.

This claim is both wrong and misleading.

For the overwhelming majority of chemicals in commerce today, industry has no idea what the potential for human harm really is. Every day, hundreds of millions of people are exposed to a soup of chemicals through thousands of consumer products. None have been thoroughly studied individually, and none have been studied at all in combination.

Aside from chemicals directly added to food, there are no mandatory health and safety studies required to put a chemical into commercial use in the United States (Toxics Substances Control Act, 15 USCA 2601-2692).

Companies usually perform crude toxicity screening tests to ensure that their products present no immediate hazard to users. They don't explode, they don't burn the users, and they don't cause acute illness. But standard tests for cancer, birth defects, reproductive toxicity, genetic toxicity, immune system toxicity, nervous system toxicity, endocrine toxicity and other long-term health problems are not required under law and are almost never preformed.

This information void is the deliberate result of a well-orchestrated chemical industry plan that goes back at least 50 years. The centerpiece of the plan was to escape regulation by making sure that Congress passed no laws that would ever require the chemical industry to perform health and safety testing for the compounds it produces. This campaign was a complete success. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), no data are required and only the tiniest sliver of preliminary toxicity screening tests are typically requested before major new high volume chemicals are manufactured, sold or used in commercial or retail products. The situation is just as bad under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, where there are no pre-market studies required for cosmetic products or the chemicals in them. (There are testing requirements for drugs and chemicals added directly to food.)

With no pre-market chemical testing required in animals, it is little wonder that industry claims there is no evidence of harm in humans - - there are basically no studies at all. Instead, the chemical industry is conducting one giant experiment on the human population, without consent, and with no apparent concern for the outcome.

On top of this, there is evidence of human harm from exposure to chemicals at background levels.

PCBs are the best example, where eating just two to three meals of Great Lakes fish per month during pregnancy causes a significant incidence of motor and behavioral deficits in the exposed children (Fein et al 1984). DDT is another case. The insecticide shuts down breast milk production in women with elevated, but "normal" levels of DDT an average of 6-1/2 months before women with low levels of DDT. (Rogan and Gladen 1985)

For many chemicals there are animal data showing serious adverse effects.

The phthalate class of plasticizers is one good example where scores of tests from government and independent (non-industry) researchers show birth defects in animals at relatively low doses. Animal data are excellent bellweathers of adverse human health effects, with a nearly perfect record of predicting human harm, where human injury has been linked to a specific chemical.

Industry often knows from experience and worker injury (as opposed to safety testing) that specific chemicals cause major health problems for their workers. The typical response is not to protect workers but to spend millions on public relations and lobbying campaigns to make sure that worker injury does not lead to restrictions on the commercial use of a chemical.


Fein GG, FL Jacobson, SW Facobson, PM Schwartz, JK Fowler. 1984. Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated bipheyls: effects on birth size and gestational age. Journal of Pediatrics. 105:315-320.

Rogan WF, BC Gladen. 1995. Study of human lactation for effects of environmental contaminants: The North Carolina breast milk and formula project and some other ideas. Environmental Health Perspectives 60:215-221.

Schettler T, J Stein, F Reich, M Valenti. 2000. In Harm's Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development. Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. May 2000.

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last updated: march.27.2009

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