Children and pregnant women aren’t being protected from exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals, say pediatricians calling for an overhaul of U.S. policy.
Monday’s policy paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics says a U.S. law dating back to 1976 limits the government from intervening to yank dangerous industrial chemicals from the market. The group wants the chemical-management policy to be “substantially revised” to consider consequences on children and their families
The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) “is widely recognized to have been ineffective in protecting children, pregnant women and the general population from hazardous chemicals in the marketplace,” Dr. Jerome Paulson of the academy’s Council on Environmental Health and his co-authors wrote.
“It does not take into account the special vulnerabilities of children in attempting to protect the population from chemical hazards.”
The authors say manufacturers must be responsible for developing information about how chemicals may affect reproduction and development before they’re allowed to be sold.
‘Children are not little adults’
They also call for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to have the authority to demand more safety data about a chemical and to limit or stop the marketing of a chemical when there is a high degree of suspicion that it might be harmful to children, pregnant women or other populations.
The statement notes that children are not little adults in terms of how they are influenced by environmental exposures. Their small size, behaviours like crawling on the floor and some of their stages of growth may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of chemicals, such as when their brains and bodies are changing quickly.
So far, the TCSA has been used to regulate five chemicals or types of chemicals — polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, fully halogenated chlorofluoroalkanes, dioxin, asbestos, and hexavalent chromium — out of 80,000 that are used in the U.S.
The academy also recommended:
The regulation of chemicals must be based on evidence, but decisions to ban chemicals should be based on reasonable levels of concern rather than demonstrated harm.
Chemicals should meet safety standards similar to those met by pharmaceuticals or pesticide residues on food.
There should be post-marketing surveillance of chemicals.
U.S. funding should be provided for research to prevent, identify and evaluate the effects of chemicals on children’s health.
Canadian law’s pluses, minuses
The statement also describes Canadian legislation to prioritize and possibly restrict chemicals designated as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
The Canadian legislation includes three options. If a substance is listed as toxic then it is subject to more regulation and restriction. If a substance is added to a priority list, it requires an in-depth assessment within five years. A substance can also be set aside as not needing more study.
“Although the Domestic Substances List categorization has been hailed as a model, critics have stated that Canadian law does not permit aggressive enough regulation to occur on those substances considered to be CEPA-toxic,” the policy statement said.
Author and environmentalist Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence in Toronto, called the U.S. policy statement significant.
“Canadian law is similar to that in the U.S.,” Smith said in an email. “So the AAP’s criticisms of the U.S. government’s lack of oversight of toxic chemicals is equally applicable to the Canadian context.”
A proposed European regulation aims to restrict use of the most toxic substances. Officials are developing a list of substances of very high concern. If the regulation is passed, use of these chemicals would need to be substituted when feasible and each use would require authorization, the academy said.
Other U.S. groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association have also independently called for such changes to the TSCA.
The American Chemistry Council has previously agreed that the act needs to be modernized and that potential risks faced by children should be an important factor in determining safe use.
Chemical law fails to protect kids’ health: MDs