Yesterday, Diane Solomon at MetroActive.com, a weekly newspaper serving the Silicon Valley area, posted her interview with Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Metro: Most of us assume that if it’s sold in a store, it’s OK. You say otherwise.
Mark Schapiro: Americans operate under the assumption that some governmental authority out there is assessing whether the products we encounter on a daily basis are safe. I’m sorry to report that’s not the case. We’re confronted daily with hundreds of different chemicals that are in everything from cosmetics to electronics to children’s toys to automobiles. Essentially, no one is out there assessing their safety.
Metro: In 1981, you wrote in ‘Circle of Poison’ that U.S. corporations were selling pesticides that were banned here in developing nations. Are we now getting dumped on by E.U. companies?
Mark Schapiro: We wrote Circle of Poison about the moral hypocrisy of determining that chemicals that aren’t good enough for Americans are OK to be dumped on other people. Well, now we’re the ones in that situation.
The E.U. is taking the lead on environmental protections and the U.S., for the first time in its history, is becoming a dumping ground for a lot of products that are banned elsewhere in the world.
When I talk about what’s at stake for American power, we’re also talking about the economic power of the U.S., because as the Europeans move ahead with less toxic alternatives and more sustainable ways of production, U.S. industry is being left behind. You can see this in the dwindling market share of many American industries.
The EU’s regulations have been in effect for a while now—are companies going broke complying with them?
I investigated what happened when the companies began removing these substances, to find out the economic impact. Number one, they all went out and found alternatives. Two, the economic cataclysm that had been predicted both by European industry and American industry never happened. The loss of jobs never happened.
You have European industries now producing products that have undergone a toxic screen and you’ve got American products that haven’t undergone a toxic screen. If you’re given a choice as to which one to buy you can weigh those products against one another and, increasingly, the Europeans are beating us. Many of our industries are now losing ground to European industry.
Metro: What’s been the reaction to ‘Exposed’? Is anything changing?
Mark Schapiro: I’ve been invited to speak to state legislators in California, Washington and Minnesota. I testified in March at Vermont’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee when they were considering their phthalate ban.
Now some of the states are looking at that evidence and saying, “Hold on—we’ve got to do something about that.” California and Vermont were the first to ban phthalates from children’s toys. They’ll take affect next year. Phthalates have been banned for almost 10 years in the E.U.
States are desperate for some kind of leadership on the environmental challenges that we face, and they’re not finding it in Washington, D.C.
State officials all across the country are flying not to Washington but to Brussels, which is the capital of the E.U., to get ideas on how to handle some of these things.
Metro: What can we do about this?
Mark Schapiro: Number one, you should be aware of this phenomenon and integrate this into your buying decisions. When it comes to electronics, there’s a label on the back of them. If it has a “CE” on it that means it’s been approved by the E.U.’s regulatory process. The sad fact is that if you’re going to buy cosmetics, other than the small brand natural cosmetics, you’re going to be a lot safer buying European ones.
Of course you can make individual decisions, but there’s no substitute for holding politicians’ feet to the fire when it comes to demanding laws that require the removal of these kinds of substances, because in the end that’s what’s going to force industry to make these changes.