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The Muckraker

Update: Exposed
CIR Staff | Update: Exposed | February 24, 2009

What's in your lipstick?

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! talks to CIR Editorial Director Mark Schapiro about his book, Exposed, and the lack of oversight by the FDA when it comes to the safety of chemicals in household products:

When a woman puts on mascara or lipstick or powder—I mean, someone’s tested it, haven’t they?

... Unfortunately, this is an illusion that a lot of Americans have, basically, that somebody out there in the government is assessing the safety of the ingredients in the cosmetics that they put on their body. ... There’s a deep mythology I think people have here in this country that the government is looking out for their health and safety, when it comes to chemicals. And what I talk about in the book is really how that is unfortunately not the case and what the consequences are for our health, but also for our economic and political status in the world.

>> Watch the Democracy Now! program online.

CIR Staff | Update: Exposed | December 18, 2008

Is environmental reform at odds with economic growth?

Tonight on KQED public radio in San Francisco, Mark Schapiro appears on Health Dialogues in a discussion about toxins in consumer products, and efforts by the California Green Chemistry Initiative signed by Governor Schwarzenegger to put California at the forefront of chemical reform, aligning state laws more closely to those of the European Union.

Also, in this month's issue of Mother Jones, Schapiro writes about the economic consequences of the EU’s environmental initiatives, which challenge many of the cost predictions by industry and the long-reining American presumption that such measures are incompatible with economic growth.

CIR Staff | Update: Exposed | December 1, 2008

New EU law requires chemical companies to come clean

Today is the deadline for international chemical companies to comply with a sweeping new European law requiring proof that products they export are safe. On Marketplace, CIR's Mark Schapiro talks about the law, which may force American companies to make safer chemicals. Under the new regulation, called REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), the companies will have to pre-register their products—revealing detailed data about the chemical ingredients and their toxicity—before they are allowed to sell the products in Europe.

Will American chemical companies—who've resisted regulations at home that require giving up such information to consumers—clean up their act? Or will they simply stop selling certain products that don't meet the EU standards in Europe?

On the program, Schapiro points out:

If the United States does not keep up with what the European Union is doing now, what's going to happen is we are going to become the dumping ground for products that are banned in Europe.

>> Listen to the full report on Marketplace.

CIR Staff | Update: Exposed | March 25, 2008

The case against phthalates

On the Huffington Post, author and CIR editorial director Mark Schapiro responds to Dr. Elizabeth Whelan's claims that his new book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power is contributing to "unfounded health scares."

Schapiro writes:

In her post, Dr. Whelan, President of the American Council for Science and Health, claims that "there is no evidence whatsoever—not even a hint—of health problems from phthalates used by children or adults." Alas, there is far more than a "hint" of such evidence....

The problem, despite Dr. Whelan's assertions, is not lack of evidence; the problem has been that no one in a policy-making position inside the U.S. government has been willing to listen to their or any other American scientist's research on the potential endocrine-disrupting effects of phthalates.

Schapiro also points out:

One thing that Ms. Whalen neglected to mention: the American Council on Science and Health, of which she is President, has forty percent of its budget paid for by corporations, according to a statement on the group's website by Whalen herself. The group no longer lists the names of its funders, but in the past, those named have included Chevron, Dow, DuPont, and Pfizer and company foundations including those of Procter&Gamble, and Merck.

These companies are among the key players which have helped create, through their influence in Washington, a laissez faire regulatory approach to chemicals that is increasingly leaving the United States behind the rest of the world in our approach to the growing evidence of harm to humans and the environment from toxic chemicals.

>> Read Mark Schapiro's essay on the Huffington Post.

Mark Schapiro | Update: Exposed | December 19, 2007

Worry, be happy

As we pass through the season of toy recalls into the heyday season of Christmas consumerism, few of the presidential candidates on either side of the aisle have yet to seriously focus on an issue that would send a powerful signal of commitment to protecting Americans. The question of ensuring American's security from the hazards to their health contained in hundreds of consumer products hangs like a ripe fruit for any candidate willing to pick it. Who is out there protecting Americans from these hidden hazards? The answer: practically nobody.

We now know what happens when illegal substances like lead are integrated into toys and shipped to the United States from China: They slip into the country past the eviscerated Consumer Product Safety Commission, whose sole toy inspector spends most of his time making sure toys don't break in children's hands, rather than assessing the toxic substances that enter into their body. In fact, the CPSC's budget has dropped almost in parallel with the rising reliance of U.S. toy manufacturers on production in China.

Hillary Clinton may have called for greater vigilance of our imports from China, but its not just illegal substances like lead that are being integrated into an array of consumer products. A host of substances suspected of causing cancer, mutating genes and disrupting the reproductive system are permitted in this country, while much of the world--our economic peers in Europe, Japan and even in emerging economies like Korea--are banning them from use. U.S. influence has been slipping globally, diminished by a bellicose foreign policy, the rapidly dropping clout of the dollar and the quicksand of Iraq. But nowhere are Americans feeling this shrinking global presence than in the realm of their health.

Once, thirty years ago, the United States was the leader on environmental protection. What we did in America--creating the EPA, passing laws regulating chemicals--was followed by the rest of the world. Our law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, was the first in the world to address the potential health dangers from chemicals. But it included a massive loophole: Any chemical already on the market as of 1981 did not have to undergo any testing for their effects on human health or the environment. The result: Some thirty years later, ninety percent of the chemicals on the market today--some 65,000 substances--have never been assessed for their toxicity.

Over the intervening twenty-six years, our laws have not kept up with the exponential increase in scientific knowledge of chemicals' effects on the human body. But the rest of the world is moving ahead. Those moves are being led by the European Union, which now includes 480 million people spread across twenty-seven countries, constituting an integrated market far larger than that of the United States. The Europeans are looking at the billions of dollars in costs to public health triggered by exposure to toxic chemicals, and are opting to act while the United States remains complacent with the status quo.

Take toys, for example: the Europeans responded to a growing body of evidence suggesting that a plastic additive called phthalates may contribute to decreased production of testosterone in infant boys by banning the substance from use in products aimed at children under the age of three. Much of the evidence used by the Europeans to make that decision came from American scientists, some of whom have been supported in their research by our own EPA. But there has been no one in the US government willing to listen. The result: toys are manufactured in China without phthalates for export to the European Union, and with phthalates for export to the United States. European manufacturers have found far less toxic alternatives and European kids have as many plastic animals and other goofy playthings as their American counterparts.

Another example, cosmetics: There is no independent body anywhere in the United States that independently assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics. Who knew how many carcinogenic, mutagenic and reproductive system inhibitors are included in cosmetics? Now we know, because the Europeans have published a 'negative' list banning such substances from cosmetics now sold in Europe. And not just Europe: increasing numbers of emerging economies, like Korea and Brazil, are beginning to look to Brussels, capitol of the EU, and not Washington for guidance in how to address such potential hazards.

Altogether, America's bluff is being called: The world's other major economy is showing that safety and financial success are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, at a time of rising environmental sensitivity in the marketplace, many of these 'greener' businesses are now posing a competitive challenge to U.S. producers. The first candidate to realize that this issue strikes directly at American's sense of safety and security will reap the benefits.

Mark Schapiro is the editorial director of CIR, and author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power.

CIR Staff | Update: Exposed | November 26, 2007

Listen to Schapiro on Fresh Air

Mark Schapiro talks to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air Monday, November 26, about his book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everday Products and What's at Stake for American Power. Listen to Schapiro discuss how and why the U.S. is become a dumping ground for toxic products banned elsewhere in the world, and the response of U.S. industry and the government to the tightening of environmental protections in the European Union.

>> Listen to Schapiro's interview online.

Carrie Ching | Update: Exposed | October 16, 2007

What's in your lipstick?

Dan Mitchell's "What's Online" column in the New York Times featured Exposed this past Saturday:

If you want to know what’s in your food, finding out is easy enough — just look at the label. Federal law mandates that food producers list ingredients. Not so with makers of cosmetics, and millions of Americans have no idea what they are putting on their skin each day.

That is not the case in Europe, where the European Union has imposed strict limits on the chemicals that manufacturers can use in products ranging from body spray to bug spray.

A result, Mark Schapiro, an investigative journalist, says in his book, “Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power,” is not only that American consumers are more at risk than their European counterparts. Besides that, he says, the European Union is also gaining the upper hand in regulating the behavior of multinational corporations, and is thus amassing more economic power.

Carrie Ching | Update: Exposed | September 21, 2007

Brussels on top

This week The Economist featured Mark Schapiro's Exposed, calling it "a gripping new book." The article, "Brussels Rules OK," points out:

"Mr Schapiro is a campaigner for tougher regulation of American business. Yet you do not have to share his taste for banning chemicals to agree with his prediction that American industry will want stricter standards to create a level playing-field at home."

>> Read the article "Brussels Rules OK" in the Economist.

>> Visit CIR's special website for Exposed.

>> Buy Exposed on Amazon.

Carrie Ching | Update: Exposed | August 15, 2007

The global power struggle over poisonous products

Vanja Petrovic interviews investigative journalist Mark Schapiro for AlterNet.org about his new book, Exposed,and why companies that manufacture hazard-free products for the European Union often produce toxin-filled versions of the same items for America and developing countries.