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Why are we not protected from the pollution from everyday consumer products?

Tuesday, July 10th 2007 10:18:46am

To the Editor:

Here is a 468 word op-ed submitted for your consideration.  If you require more information or a headshot of Anne Mitchell, CIELAP's Executive Director, please contact Carolyn Webb at 416-923-3529 ext 26., cielap@cielap.org.  

Why are we not protected from the pollution from everyday consumer products?

Cosmetics, tile cleaners, insect repellants, shampoos, laundry detergents and prescription drugs are just some of the everyday products containing harmful endocrine-disrupting substances (EDS) that can seriously damage our health.  The red flags currently being raised about these EDSs ending up in our water couldn't have come sooner.

We have learned from harrowing stories in the past that exposure to incredibly small amounts of EDSs, such as Thalidomide and the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol, and the timing of the exposure, can cause dramatic birth defects.  Developing fetuses are a vulnerable population needing our protection.

It's clear that governments and academia need to set clear priorities for research and put more resources into examining and understanding this issue.  Unfortunately, the Harper Government's new Science and Technology Strategy is going in the opposite direction as it hints at privatizing its government research labs.

And in Ontario, the government needs to listen to the Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller's advice and support research into water treatment technologies to remove these substances from our water.

Last year, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) published "There is No AWAY," a major report on EDSs in our water (available at www.cielap.org) that includes recommendations to governments for handling this problem, specifically, creating policy that would prevent these pollutants from getting into our water in the first place.  And when we don't have enough hard proof, precaution and prevention ought to be the course of action.

We highlight a number of actions governments can take to curb EDS pollution.  They can initiate public and consumer education programs; establish municipal by-laws about avoiding home pesticide use and not discarding drugs down toilets and sewers; develop product standards; and restrict manufacturers from using some substances, or at least limiting the amounts they use.

Consumers also need a better system to be able to identify safer personal care and cleaning products.  We need our government to initiate a system for mandatory labeling that allows and promotes consumer choice.  It's absurd that consumers have no reliable way to tell whether the soaps, deodorants, and cleaners they buy - to put on their skin and use in their homes - contain potentially harmful substances.

In the long-term, however, people's safety shouldn't be left to consumer choice.  As we learn more about EDSs and the risks they present to human health, problem ingredients should be banned.

We must act now to educate citizens and provide them with the tools they need to make informed decisions for their health and the health of their environments.  A labeling program, which would let consumers better understand and choose the chemicals they consume, would be a good start.

Anne Mitchell
Executive Director
Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP)


Media Contact:

Carolyn Webb, CIELAP, 416-923-3529 ext 26., cielap@cielap.org

Founded in 1970, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) is an independent environmental law and policy research and education organization.