Secret Chemicals and Public Health
Riffing on a familiar theme, Britney Spears next hit single, “Toxic Substances Control Act” examines the government’s responsibility to inform the public about what’s in vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Dec. 18 regarding the prevalence of autism spectrum in its Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report publication. The report found that, on average, there was 57 percent increase of autism between 2002 and 2006 in 8-year-old children. Although such an increase could be attributable to more accurate and timely diagnoses of the condition, the CDC concluded that a true increase couldn’t be ruled out.
The report also found the average IQ of children diagnosed with autism is going up, and autism is more likely to manifest as a scatter in cognitive abilities—rather than a pervasive and global developmental delay. This indicates that the way we identify and diagnose autism has changed. As such, whether autism is actually on the rise is debatable. Yet the fact that about 1 in 110 children is now identified as autistic is enough to drive fear into the heart of any parent. Concerned parties are still scrambling to identify a cause and a cure. Weary parents and researchers continue to suspiciously eye vaccines and their easily vilified additives—such as the mercury derivative Thimerosal—for evidence of a link between childhood exposure to vaccination and development of autism.
Despite the mountain of evidence suggesting vaccines don’t cause autism, the stain of suspicion continues to mar their reputation. Yet as linkages between vaccines and autism dry up, parents and researchers are broadening their gaze in order to identify other potential toxins or factors that could contribute to autism.
Enter an article published in today’s Washington Post regarding the fact that potentially harmful chemicals must be kept secret under law in order to protect the bottom line of chemical manufacturers. According to the article authored by Washington Post staffer Lyndsey Layton, a provision in the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act prohibits public disclosure of the names and physical properties of certain chemicals if such disclosure would unveil trade secrets in the highly competitive industry.
This means that consumers and public officials are not allowed to know the identity of certain chemicals. As such, regulators are unable to control the potential dangers of these unknown substances, and consumers are barred from knowing what toxic substances they have been exposed to.
According to the report, most of the 700 chemicals that are introduced annually carry some sort of secrecy provision, and as such 17,000 of the 84,000 chemicals used commercially are now secret. In certain cases, the identities and addresses of manufactures are also hidden from the public. Many of these secret chemicals are produced in mass quantities and some are used exclusively in children’s products. Some of these secret substances pose “substantial risk” to the environment or public health, according to mandatory notices that manufacturers must file with the Environmental Protection Agency. So, in essence, a manufacturer must disclose to the EPA that they are unleashing a chemical that carries substantial health or environmental risks but does not need to share the name or properties of that chemical. This means the EPA’s hands are tied when it comes to regulating that chemical or assisting people who fall ill after exposure, even in the case of health emergencies.
Now, I am not claiming that one or even many of the thousands of chemicals used commercially, whether secret or not, contribute to autism. But whether Thimerosal is being injected into a child or Mystery Substance X is being leached into groundwater, it seems prudent to fully understand the health risks of all the substances to which we subject ourselves. It’s the government’s responsibility to facilitate this understanding and protect the public’s safety accordingly.
Some die-hard childhood vaccination opponents (such as the Jenny McCarthy-led anti-vaccers) have suggested the government concealed the risks of vaccines in order to protect the bottom line of vaccine manufacturers. I don’t personally believe this is true due to the number and strength of studies from independent researchers. But the fact that the government has given chemical manufacturers so much power over consumers, regulators and the environment is not only alarming but also a great argument in the arsenal of those who no longer trust governmental agencies charged with protecting the public’s health.
Convincing parents that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks will become more difficult as rates of autism continue to rise and Uncle Sam continues to allow chemical manufacturers to hide their products behind a veil of secrecy at the expense of public and environmental health.
While the Washington Post article notes the Obama administration is pushing for greater transparency in the upcoming renewal of the Toxic Substances Control Act, you should contact your national representatives and voice your support for transparency in all commercial matters that affect the health and wellbeing of our bodies and our planet. From the food industry (ever heard of a CAFO, or confined animal feeding operation? Yeah, the public’s not really allowed to see what happens in those pits of despair) to the pharmaceutical industry to the chemical industry, we need to know. Without transparency, the factors that contribute to disease and death may remain hidden behind a shroud of corporate secrecy.
That doesn’t sound much like a free market to me.