Saturday, October 14, 2006

US Dumping Ground for Dangerous Products

The Worlds Dumping Ground
Over the last few years many countries around the world have raised the levels of protection on various consumer goods which are either dangerous to consumers or damaging to the environment.

In that time the US has fallen behind and has now becoming the world’s dumping ground for such products.

These products range from manufactured wood such as plywood as well as the products made of such plywood, toys, cosmetics, insecticides, herbicides, cell phones, cameras and other consumer products.

In this LA Times story linked from Raw Story Professor Michael Wilson of UC Berkeley's Center for Occupational and Environmental Health states:

“The United States is becoming a "dumping ground" for consumer goods that are unwanted and illegal in much of the world.”

Wilson warned earlier this year in a report commissioned by the California Legislature that "the United States has fallen behind globally in the move toward cleaner technologies."

In the same article international chemical policy expert Alastair Iles, a research fellow at UC Berkeley says:

“The dumping problem is concentrated in a few product sectors. But these sectors happen to be really ubiquitous in the everyday lives of Americans. Chemical risks are being spread all over the country in ways that are invisible to consumers,”

It is also noted in the article that:

The California Air Resources Board “estimates that one of every 10,000 Californians is at risk of contracting cancer from breathing average formaldehyde levels found in homes and offices.”

“One birch plank from China, bought at a Home Depot store in Portland, gave off 100 times more formaldehyde than legal in Japan and 30 times more than allowed in Europe and China”

Yet “the only formaldehyde standard for wood in the U.S. is one that applies just to subsidized, low-income housing. U.S. companies voluntarily meet it for all products, though it allows 10 times more formaldehyde than Japan's standards.”

Banned Chemicals
Some of the chemicals wich are banned or stricktly limited in other countries are:

FORMALDEHYDE - used in glues for wood products, particularly plywood and particle boards. Exposure has been shown in human studies to cause nose and throat cancer and possibly leukemia, as well as allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches and sore throats.

PHTHALATES - used in cosmetics. Exposure has been linked to birth defects.

TOLUENE - used in nail polish and nail polish remover. Exposure has been linked to cancer and birth defects.

LEAD - found in some cell phones, digital cameras and even some Mexican candies. Exposure has been shown to cause mental development problems in children.

HERBICIDES AND INSECTICIDES - atrazine, aldicarb and endosulfan are among some of the most popular agents used in the US, yet banned elsewhere except for emergency use.

Other Products
Other products range from:

“Extension cords and electrical items that overheat and burn; fake ground-fault circuit interrupter plugs that don't always trip when overloaded; toys that can choke, cut, or poison young children; counterfeit batteries that leak acid, overheat, or spark; and disposable lighters that leak fuel or explode” according to this report by Consumer Reports

Even Herbal Medicines can be lethal as outlined in this report from

“The poison arrived in a plastic bottle from India bearing a simple label in English and Hindi. "Useful in flu and bodyache," it read. "Two tabs twice a day or as per physician's advice."

What it didn't say was that the herbal medicine, on sale at a store in Queens, contained 2,190 times the amount of mercury considered safe by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies”

Genetically Modified Crops and Food Products -the crops can spread to surrounding areas and even cross pollinate with natural crops and there are still questions about the effects of GM foods.

Other Countries Proactive
Numerous other countries have recently been very proactive in cleaning up the environment and protecting their citizens.

The LA Times reports that:

“The European Union, driven by consumers' concerns, has banned or heavily restricted hundreds of toxic substances in recent years, invoking its "precautionary principle," which is codified into law and prescribes that protective steps should be taken when there is scientific evidence of risks to public health or the environment.”

As an example the European Public Health Alliance reports in 2003 that:

“Last 8th July, an impressive coalition of European environmental, consumer, health, and women’s groups presented Europe’s most widely supported submission to the European Commission’s consultation on future chemicals law.

The submission was presented to European Commissioner Wallstrom by a coalition of the European Consumers Organisation, European Environmental Bureau, European Public Health Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Women in Europe for a Common Future, and WWF in the last week of the consultation on the draft directive on the proposed REACH legislation.

The Declaration for a Toxics Free Future, signed by 23,600 people as well as 483 wide-ranging public interest organisations, calls on the European Commission to protect health and the environment from hazardous chemicals. In addition to the coalition of groups presenting the Declaration, it was also supported by organisations including the Netherlands’ Council of Women, the German Childbirth Association, and the British Allergy Foundation.”

Among the items requested in this declaration were:

“*an obligation to phase out and substitute chemicals that accumulate in wildlife, humans or the environment, and those that disrupt hormones. Restricted uses of such chemicals should only be permitted temporarily, if safer alternatives are not available, and the use is essential to society;

* a full right to know, for both consumers and businesses, including what chemicals are present in products;

* a requirement that products imported into the EU have to conform to the same safety standards as those made in the EU.”

Focus Web reports on India upgrading their labeling on genetically modified products:

“This decision was taken by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in its meeting on 2nd May 2006 where it was decided that all imported crude soyabean oils should carry a declaration "extracted from Roundup Ready Soyabean". The exporters should also certify that the products are safe and also instructed for a safe disposal of the byproducts after oil extraction.”

Even China is stepping in:

“New Chinese regulations that will take effect March 1, 2007, could require companies to redesign the electronic and information technology products they manufacture for the Chinese market, whether in China or other countries. The rules are designed to reduce the public health and environmental effects associated with the disposal of such products, which often contain toxic or hazardous substances.
These new rules will apply to a wide range of goods, including radar and communications devices, radios, televisions, computers, home electronics, measuring instruments, software, and other electronic components, parts, applications and materials.”

But there is one caveat which is the crux of the whole problem:

“Goods made in China for export will not be affected by the new requirements.”

Why Is There This Problem?
In the article from the LA Times we are told:

“The Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies have relied on voluntary steps from industries rather than regulations, saying the threats posed by low levels of chemicals are too uncertain to eliminate products valuable to consumers or businesses.”

“The EPA hasn't eliminated any industrial compounds since it sought unsuccessfully to ban asbestos 18 years ago. Unlike EU policies, U.S. law requires the EPA to prove a toxic substance "presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment," consider the costs of restricting its use and choose "the least burdensome" approach to regulate industry.”

The Consumer Reports puts it all in perspective when they tell us that “since the 1970s, when the CPSC was created and product safety became a federal goal” injuries and deaths from consumer products have been greatly reduced, but go on to note:

“That progress seems to be waning because powerful trends have converged to allow more unsafe products in the marketplace: America's transformation from net exporter to the world's largest importer has given more overseas manufacturers sanctuary from direct CPSC oversight. Consumer demand for ever-lower prices has given some manufacturers an incentive to cut costs by cutting corners on safety”

But that’s not all:

“At the same time, a decades-long erosion of the CPSC's budget and staff has forced the agency to wring ever more work from dwindling resources.

One major sign of trouble is the steeply declining number of CPSC recalls, detained shipments, and other enforcement actions, down 35 percent from 2001 to 2003. That drop is not a result of fewer unsafe products. Rather, it's caused by a reduced government effort to search for them, according to a CPSC report to Congress in February 2004. We had no trouble buying dozens of products that violate U.S. safety standards at stores in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas; only one of the items has since been publicly recalled by the CPSC

Loss of funding and staff. The CPSC's budget has shrunk to about half what it was in 1975, after adjusting for inflation. The staff was cut almost in half over the same period. But the CPSC now regulates ever more products. Its 470 employees oversee 15,000 household products, including appliances, electronics, furniture, toys, and yard equipment.”

“They are woefully inadequately funded,” says Gary Smith, M.D., chairman of the committee on injury, violence, and poison prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They need more staff and enabling legislation to give them more clout, because they are limited on what they can do by their congressional mandate.”

This reduced funding has created a situation where:

“As U.S. imports have surged, the CPSC shifted from searching for unsafe products in retail stores to inspecting shipping containers at the ports, says Alan Schoem, the CPSC's former director of compliance and a longtime staff member, who left the agency recently to work for a risk-consulting firm. The number of CPSC inspections of stores and factories has plummeted from 1,130 in 1999 to just 400 to 500 in 2004, the commission's reports show”

Even US Companies Take Advantage
Even some American based companies take advantage of the lax regulations here. One example is OPI Products, Inc. the largest manufacturer of nail polish and nail treatment products worldwide.

Phthalates, formaldehyde and toluene are all used in their products which they distribute in the US while at the same time they make products without these chemicals for distribution elsewhere in the world according to a report from Safe Cosmectics.

It Even Flows the Other Way
In another report from Consumer Reports, they list a number of cases where dangerous items which had actually been banned here were sent to other countries:

“• Wellmax extension cords were shipped to Panama in 2001 after nearly a million of them were recalled in the U.S. because their undersized wires could overheat and cause a fire. The CPSC notified Panamanian officials about the danger but had no authority to stop their exportation. In July 2004 we found some of the defective cords for sale over the Internet, for “export only,” by Wellmax, an importer in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

• Balloon-tongue “Zapper” toys were exported to the Dominican Republic in 2001, after 835,000 distributed by eight toy companies in the U.S. were recalled because children could inhale the balloons or choke. In August 2004 we found them still being sold in a party-goods store in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

• More than 500 flammable girls' and women's chenille sweaters were shipped to Israel and Japan in 1999. They failed U.S. flammability standards and would burn faster than newspaper if ignited, according to a CPSC recall notice.”

US Basic Labeling Requirements for Consumer Pakages
At their website The Office of Education, Science and Technology gives a list of the US Basic Labaling Requirements for Consumer Packaging.

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