A lot of blogs and sensationalist media reports want you to think that our public health departments are knowingly and intentionally poisoning us. That we are so far behind Europe because they’ve banned hundreds more chemicals than we have in North America. But the truth is, our governments just take a different approach.
I believe we’re behind, but I don’t believe it’s (entirely) malicious. It’s just based on a different approach to science and regulation. Does industry play too large a role in our regulation? Absolutely. Here are some things to consider about the current regulations and what this means to you as a consumer.
Toxicology is the arm of science that studies how certain substances affect living beings. Toxicological studies are done on chemicals and products, typically on animals, to determine how much exposure to a chemical is required before death or injury. These studies generally isolate the chemical in question so that the mice (or whatever the subject species is) are exposed only to the substance being studied. A lethal dose is determined, and industry is subsequently required to report this lethal dose on technical literature like Material Safety Data Sheets. They typically don’t mean much to the average person.
They also typically don’t mean much when considering how we are exposed to toxics on a daily basis.
Toxicological studies focus on individual exposures. But in reality, we are constantly exposed to potentially toxic substances, in combination. The air we breathe, the products we put on our skin, and even the toxic load we are born with all contribute to an overall concentration of toxics in our body. This is called “body burden”. And it isn’t typically taken into account when studying the toxicity of a chemical or product.
Our Internal Detox Pathways
So while our bodies are designed to detoxify, we are becoming increasingly overburdened. Our livers and kidneys and digestive tracts are bombarded with more stressors than ever before – stress in the form of not enough sleep, emotional stress, poor diet, not enough exercise, and an overburden of toxics.
The truth is, even if we eat a balanced diet, exercise, and get enough sleep, our food, air and water are contaminated. With increased use of pesticides that affect our gut biome and environmentally-pervasive chemicals like PBDEs and organophosphates, our bodies are no longer working as well as they did a hundred years ago. So we’re putting more stress onto our already stressed bodies just by going about our daily lives.
This sounds horribly depressing, but read on. It doesn’t have to be and it’s my mission to help you get past this in a positive way.
This takes us back to the question of why Europe bans more chemicals than in North America. It comes down to the precautionary principle. This school of thought recommends that where there is a chance a substance can cause harm, even if it’s not scientifically proven, it should be avoided. European regulations tend to adopt the precautionary principle when deciding whether or not to allow a substance into the market.
North America instead uses the idea that a substance is safe until proven harmful. And typically, it has to be proven without a doubt, or at least with substantial evidence. Not to sound all conspiracy-theorist, but industry often ends up providing studies that are used to discredit those that suggest there’s risk with their products. Thus, we end up with ingredients in our homes that are banned in Europe.
What This Means for You
Given all this, it’s no wonder so many people I work with feel overwhelmed! But it’s also why I think it’s important that we consider the precautionary principle with our homes. As the science unfolds, what was previously precautionary (organophosphate pesticides, BPA, triclosan, etc.) is now known to impact our health and/or the environment. I think we owe it to ourselves, and our children, to be ahead of the curve. By reducing our exposure to toxic or potentially toxic chemicals in our external environments, we can set ourselves up for more success with our internal health.