Many teens don't realize products they use every day may contain chemicals that can disrupt their still-developing biochemistry. American consumers often use 15 to 25 personal care and cosmetic products every day, and teens use more than the average adult.
Many cosmetics can contain toxicants
These products aren't adequately regulated by the FDA, and often haven't been required to be tested for safety. Yet they can contain hundreds of synthetic chemical compounds, which may cause harm with repeated exposure. The current law doesn't even require adequate labeling so consumers can't always see what they're exposing themselves to.
Some antiperspirants, for example, contain aluminum zirconium to slow the production of sweat. Yet some studies indicate this chemical, banned in the European Union, may be linked to the development of Alzheimer's Disease as well as being a possible developmental toxicant.
Teen biochemistry still developing
As teenagers make the transition from adolescence to adulthood, their bodies undergo complicated biochemical changes: bone growth, shifts in metabolism, maturation of the hormonal system and key changes to brain structure, just to name a few.
According to a study by the Environmental Working Group, research shows teens "may be particularly senstive to exposures of trace levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals" like the ones found in these products.
Outdated law lets chemicals go untested
The main law regulating chemicals in consumer chemicals is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Passed in 1976, TSCA gave a free ride to the 62,000 chemicals on the market at the time, allowing companies to continue to use them without safety testing. It also set an almost impossibly high bar that the Environmental Protection Agency must meet to prove a chemical is dangerous; as a result EPA was unable to use the law even to ban asbestos (a deadly carcinogen barred in over 30 countries).
TSCA also allows chemical companies to keep information about their chemicals hidden as "trade secrets." The result is that the identities of almost 20% of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market today are kept hidden from the public—including from teens and their parents.
New bills would help keep teens safer
In July of 2010, a new bill was introduced in the House: the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act (H.R. 5820), a companion to the Senate's Safe Chemicals Act (S. 3209) introduced in April. These bills would go a long way in improving the badly outdated TSCA, by closing loopholes that have allowed so many synthetic chemicals to go untested and forcing companies to prove their chemicals are safe.
TSCA does not traditionally apply to chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products, which fall under FDA's authority rather than EPA's. However, people are exposed to many of the same chemicals used in such products through the use of other products or through air, water, food or other means. And the human body doesn't distinguish between a chemical coming from a product regulated by FDA vs. EPA!
The bills would mandate that EPA consider all sources of exposure to a given chemical, and then inform FDA of actions it needs to take to control dangerous exposures to chemicals in products under its authority.
These new bills would go a long way in bringing toxic chemical regulation into the 21st century. That's why we're encouraging teenagers and their parents to stand with us and urge Congress to pass the strongest possible version of these bills.