Ending the Toxic Shell Game

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) held a gala celebration this past October 24 to mark our 15th anniversary of protecting children and families from harmful chemicals in our food, air, water and consumer products. I was honored and humbled at the support of more than 250 guests who attended the event, which was introduced by our Board Member Paul Adelstein and featured a panel of national business leaders speaking on energy and sustainability in the 21st century and a rousing game of “You Don’t Know Jack-The Bad, Bad Chemicals Edition.”

During the event, I spoke of the “corporate shell game” that companies have used for decades to evade strong health protections. Too often, when government regulators finally decide to restrict the use of a chemical that has long been linked to health problems, industry simply substitutes a new, untested substance, thus continuing to put our children and families at risk. For example, CEH is fighting the pesticide’s industry promotion of methyl iodide, a chemical they are marketing as a replacement for methyl bromide, which was banned only after decades of research, science and advocacy by public interest, science, health and environmental groups.

I told the audience at our event that there’s a new corporate shell game that CEH is aiming to stop. Many companies have recently begun to replace bisphenol-A ( BPA), a chemical that can mimic our bodies’ natural hormones. But not surprisingly, some are replacing the risky chemical with other untested chemicals that may also be hormone-altering substances. I announced that night our plan: to use research, testing, legal action and public advocacy to end the use of these hormone-altering chemicals in all children’s products.

Immediately after the event, we put our plan into effect. We sent our first product, my daughter Juliette’s sippy cup, out for lab testing. This sippy cup was sold by a major national retailer and was advertised as “BPA-free.” Still, because it may contain other hormone-altering chemicals, I could never watch my daughter drink from this cup without wondering if it was exposing her to these chemical hazards.

Sadly, I don’t need to wonder any longer. The lab recently reported to CEH that the “BPA-free” bottle that Juliette has been drinking from nevertheless does exhibit hormone-mimicking effects.

Fortunately our plan doesn’t end with testing Juliette’s sippy cup. Over the next few months we will test dozens of sippy cups and baby bottles for these “estrogenic effects” that have been linked to cancer, infertility and early onset puberty. We will publicize our findings widely, pressure the makers of the products, and investigate legal options to end their use of these potentially hazardous chemicals.

When I started CEH in 1996, no one believed that we could eliminate lead from children’s products – but CEH research, testing, and legal work over our first fifteen years finally resulted in the first federal law to ban lead in all products for children. It may take another fifteen years, but we intend to end industry’s toxic shell games once and for all.