The Toxic Substances and Control Act of 1976 is “notoriously weak and ineffectual,” charges investigative journalist Baker, and the EPA, the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission lack the manpower and resources to do their jobs.
As a consequence, she asserts, the public is continually exposed to dangerous levels of harmful chemicals in a host of everyday products; each one of us is “a test animal in a vast uncontrolled experiment.” Baker quotes researchers and activists who support her charges, provides the responses of chemical-industry representatives who reject them and cites companies that have taken action to reduce toxic substances in their products. Separate chapters explore what is known about the harmful effects and what has been done to restrict the use of five individual chemicals: atrazine, an agricultural weed killer; phthalates, found in cosmetics; polybrominated diphenyl ethers, widely used in fire retardants; Bisphenol A, an element in reusable plastic food containers and the lining of metal food cans; and perfluorinated chemicals, used in nonstick cookware, firefighting foams and floor cleaners. Baker finds good news in the sweeping reforms enacted by the European Union, which in 2006 passed legislation requiring companies to prove their substances are harmless, in Canada’s new chemicals-management plan and in the efforts in California, Michigan, Massachusetts and other states to institute chemical-policy reforms. While waiting for Congress to act, consumers can take steps to lighten the chemical load they are exposed to, she states, and offers her own guidelines for doing just that. An appendix sums up the essential facts about each of the five chemicals discussed and offers advice on avoiding them.
A pithy call to action replete with frightening stories about what’s hidden in the water we drink, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the beds we sleep in.