By Zoe Christopher
Office Manager & Resource Liaison, Breast Cancer Action
As the Resource Liaison at Breast Cancer Action, I field a lot of calls, letters and emails — activity that ramps up every time we distribute emails to our members, calls to action, or posts on social media. Whenever our focus is on fixing our country’s broken chemical regulations, we receive a lot of kudos and enthusiastic support – our members expect us to continue to bring attention to an issue that is deeply connected to the breast cancer epidemic.
Chemical policy reform is in the Senate spotlight right now and BCAction has set forth six standards we feel must be met by any acceptable chemical policy bill that gets approved by Congress. We want strong, serious, and meaningful regulation – that actually protects the public health as well as the planet.
At least, that’s my thinking.
Let me focus on two of BCAction’s six standards for chemical reform and why I think they are essential to how we, as a nation, re-think our priorities:
1) The burden of proof for chemical safety must be placed squarely on the shoulders of industry to prove their products are safe, rather than on the EPA to prove they are toxic.
2) A strong chemical safety bill must require that products are proven safe before they enter the marketplace – rather than after they are already in our homes and our bodies.
These are not unreasonable – unless prioritizing profits over the public’s health is your business as usual.
In response to our recent e-alert urging our members to contact their Senators to demand strong chemical regulation reform, I received a message from a person identifying himself as a chemist who runs a small start-up. He stated that “Small start-up…companies who do chemical research simply don’t have the equipment, manpower, resources or money to do their own pre-market toxicity testing, hence the EPA.”
He continued, “One sure way to put a damper on research to develop new therapeutics for cancer…is to require excessive in-house testing for chemical companies with less than 10 employees before any public exposure, hence, the FDA.” He points out that, “I can taste the polymer additives leaching from plastic milk jugs…but that being said, I have to come down on the side of freedom to do chemical research and create new products free from the early-stage heavy hand of government regulation…”
Hmmm – so what I’m hearing is that the freedom to pursue profits overrides serious concern for the public’s health?
Does this chemist know that as a regulatory agency, the EPA is not engaged in research and development, the challenges of which rest with the industry, and include meeting all mandates that will ensure public safety? The EPA is charged with ascertaining the validity of that R&D.
As I re-read this gentleman’s response, I experienced a deep and nearly hopeless sadness. I had to ask myself, “How did we get here? How is it that our institutionalized systems allow us to condone the poisoning of our people and our planet for the sake of “new products,” “growth,” “successful” start-ups, faster-growing crops (with questionable links to real food), or “better” drugs that have serious side-effects for those who can afford them?” If I were to call for a revamping of capitalism, I will be thought mad – but I do wonder.
When did we sell off our right to live in an environment in which we aren’t continually bombarded with toxins for which no one is accountable? When did assaults on public health become business as usual?
No, Sir, with all due respect, I cannot prioritize the success of your small business start-up over the public health. We will not continue to suffer the blowback from your drive for marketplace profits. Yes, there are many gaps in chemical and testing design, but the costs of effective testing are part of the price you pay to enter that arena. These burdens and complexities do not warrant the use of the general public as guinea pigs.
At the core of our broken system is an unholy disregard for human safety and well-being, a system rooted in the maximizing of financial gain at any cost. It’s rampaging capitalism and it has to be fixed.
Earlier this month, some of the jurors that convicted Fabrice Tourre, a minor player in Goldman Sachs’ mortgage securities fraud, lamented that his conviction would do nothing to change the profits-before-people culture at the core of the company, a culture they felt powerless to effect.
Earlier this week, New York Times correspondent Elizabeth Rosenthal, investigating the outrageous cost of joint replacement in this country compared to the same procedure in other medically-advanced countries, noted that the endless layers of profits that are now so common in any procedure make system reform within the current paradigm impossible.
Our lack of strong chemical regulation is creating illness and diseases for which many people cannot afford treatment. Big Pharma gets bigger and becomes more powerful as it brings to market ever-more-expensive treatments for those who can still afford them. Greed and profiteering underlie our cultural concept of “progress” while our systems become more inhumane.
We have a chance to turn the tide. By demanding the strongest chemical policy reform possible, we send the message that it’s time for a paradigm shift – away from business as usual and toward systems that not only support but also benefit our health, our communities, our global environment. Together our voices can be heard – it’s not too late.