Reducing toxic chemicals

Ray Côté
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It seems that the only time we read or hear about toxic chemicals now is as a result...

It seems that the only time we read or hear about toxic chemicals now is as a result of a fire and explosion at a factory, or due to an explosion resulting from a transportation accident, either truck or train. It would be unrealistic to think those were our major exposures.

Chemists continue to be busy in their laboratories creating new chemicals to make our lives easier and products more durable and more colourful. It’s true society and the new laws and regulations influence them and the companies they work for. So many of these chemicals are safer than they would have been without this regulatory framework.

That framework continues to evolve and there’s somewhat of an “ebb and flow” in the application of regulations depending on the philosophy of the party in power at the time. But generally speaking, the oversight has grown over time and the assessments conducted before chemicals are put into daily usage are much more comprehensive than they were three or four decades ago.

That isn’t to say that every chemical manufactured today is completely safe under all conditions. These assessments are essentially risk assessments in which the “good” is contrasted with the “bad” to determine the conditions under which a chemical can be used. I’m sure you’ve all seen the advertisements for drugs on American television channels in which the good aspects of the drug are promoted and a sometimes long list of the bad aspects or the risks is mentioned. Under the guidance of a doctor, those risks can be minimized.

However, there are still thousands of chemicals in use today that were never assessed with the level of scrutiny expected today. Some of these are monitored for health and ecological effects while their use continues. It usually takes a lot of evidence of negative effects to cause a chemical to be restricted or banned.

One jurisdiction in North America that continues to lead in restricting chemicals and informing consumers about risks is California. Because it’s a large, populous state, people in other jurisdictions pay attention to the laws and regulations applied there.

Companies do as well. Wal-Mart is one of those companies. In previous columns, I’ve described initiatives being taken by Wal-Mart to deal with energy and climate change, for example. As reported by Environmental Leader, Wal-Mart is beginning to collaborate with suppliers to reduce a number of toxic chemicals in the products it sells, as well as the quantity of fertilizers used to produce the food products on its shelves.

In the case of the chemicals, the initial list of 10 that it didn’t name can be found in cleaning products and personal care, beauty and cosmetic products. One might suspect that these chemicals could be considered as hormone mimicking or disrupting chemicals, a group of chemicals of concern in California and by a number of influential environmental organizations. Other major retailers are sure to follow suit.

So the morale of the story is that, if you sell to Wal-Mart or other major retailers, you should attempt to find out which chemicals are currently on that list and which might be added in the near future, because this could affect your continuing ability to do business with them. You might also want to look at what’s happening in California if you want to get ahead of your competitors. At the very least Wal-Mart will eventually expect you to list those chemicals on the package in which the product is contained.

Organizations: Wal-Mart

Geographic location: California, North America

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Recent comments

  • sally Edelstein
    November 08, 2013 - 17:49

    Once upon a time we were intoxicated with all these new chemicals. Mid century America was the golden age of pesticides and chemicals and it was love at first sight. Thousands of new chemicals were put to use in new and amazing products quickly tested and just as quickly put to market. Sixty years later these same chemicals would come back to haunt us whether as cancer or birth defects etc. Mine was a childhood soaked in chemical memories