Time is of the Essence….We need to Take Action

Killer Whale Pod in British ColumbiaSince the airing of our PBS special “Call of the Killer Whale” last April 2009, Ocean Futures Society has been engaged in a campaign against toxic chemicals, especially those that bioaccumulate in the environment, are long-lasting and ubiquitous. In the TV special we highlighted the fact that every 3.5 years levels of some toxic flame retardants are doubling in many marine mammal populations, including the killer whales in the Pacific Northwest.

The last month’s headline news has given me a sense of hope that we are on the right path to finding sustainable, environmentally friendly alternatives to thousands of chemicals that have been used for decades with little understanding of their long-term effects on human health and the health of the environment.

Some of the encouraging headlines:

Industry To Phase Out DecaBDE
Flame Retardants: Production will shift to greener alternatives
December 18, 2009
Steve Owens, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, issued the following statement in response to the announcement: 
“Though DecaBDE has been used as a flame retardant for years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has long been concerned about its impact on human health and the environment. Studies have shown that DecaBDE persists in the environment, potentially causes cancer and may impact brain function.  DecaBDE also can degrade to more toxic chemicals that are frequently found in the environment and are hazardous to wildlife. 
“Today’s announcement by these companies to phase out DecaBDE is an appropriate and responsible step to protect human health and the environment.”
Read more here.

EPA Announces Actions to Address Chemicals of Concern
December 31, 2009
For the first time, the U.S. EPA intends to establish a Chemicals of Concern list and is beginning a process that could lead to regulations requiring risk reduction measures to protect human health and the environment.
The agency is taking action to control four groups of chemicals that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says raise "serious health or environmental concerns."
"The American people are understandably concerned about the chemicals making their way into our products, our environment and our bodies," said Jackson, announcing the action Wednesday. "We will continue to use our authority under existing law to protect Americans from exposure to harmful chemicals and to highlight chemicals we believe warrant concern.”
Read more here.

Push is on to speed phaseout of flame retardant
January 4, 2010
Maryland advocates for a ban on a toxic flame retardant that accumulates in the environment and has been linked to cancer and brain development problems intend to pursue an earlier phaseout of the chemical than the timeline currently spelled out in a recent federal agreement.
Read more here.

OFS has been actively supporting legislation at the state and national levels to address concerns about toxic flame retardants being used in high volumes. One such proposed legislation on Capitol Hill is the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act.

The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act seeks to improve the current system of regulations applied to manufacturers who utilize chemicals in production. If this amendment passes into law, it will seek to tackle this problem in three primary ways. It will set a timetable to identify all of the chemicals currently used in production. It then creates a test standard and sets a deadline to determine the fate of each particular chemical. Finally, it emphasizes promoting and rewarding businesses for innovation resulting in safer means of production.

The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act seeks to ensure the safety of the techniques and methods utilized by manufactures. The American consumer has the fundamental right to know what they are consuming or being exposed to, and if the result is harmful or not. The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act is designed to further the progress made by the original Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), aiming to identify and eliminate hazardous chemicals that America’s youth are exposed to. The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act aims to create a preventative system regarding the use of chemicals by placing more of a burden on manufacturers who choose to use hazardous chemicals.

I feel more than ever the urgency of passing important laws like The Kid-Safe Chemical Act to ensure a healthy environment for us all. As science uncovers more information regarding the impacts of untested chemicals in household products, it is becoming increasingly necessary to reform and modernize policy, reform past policy, and specify the goals of future policy. The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act does all of these things, and offers a more optimistic future for EPA regulation over the use of potentially toxic chemicals in production.

The frequency of chemicals entering American homes is increasing, yet the testing requirements for these chemicals have not been updated in the last 30 years. As I said in the film and now in all my public appearances when talking about this issue:

“Now, more than ever, time is of the essence. We didn't know before, but now we do and it's not an issue of pointing fingers or accusing anybody. Now that we know the consequences, we need to immediately change. It's time to find ways to prevent such chemicals from entering the environment in the first place, to find alternatives, and to anticipate problems before they occur. We cannot wait to find a cure for dangerous products after they are in the environment and in us."

The Ocean Futures Society campaign intends to educate, inform and create a dialogue for change from the individual to the corporate boardroom and international legislatures until environmental protection from toxic contaminants like flame retardants is assured.

For more information on the Kid-Safe Chemical Act you can download our Kid-Safe_Chemicals_Act.pdf (546.15 KB) or visit the official US government website.

For more information on what you can do to protect yourself from harmful toxic flame retardants, please visit Take Action.

Jean-Michel Cousteau Signature

Photo: Killer Whale pod in British Columbia © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society.