Mark Schapiro is the editorial director at the Center for Investigative Reporting. His work has appeared in Mother Jones and the New York Times Magazine, and he is a regular guest on NPR. His new book is Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power.
Bohemian: The European Union is doing something about the connection between disease and chemical exposure. Tell us about that.
Mark Schapiro: Increasing amounts of evidence suggest that many of the chemicals we encounter in our daily lives are responsible for a whole array of health problems. The Centers for Disease Control went out and tested Americans. What they found out is that all of us are walking around with 148 chemicals in our bloodstream right now. These are chemicals that we never asked to have in our bodies, but they’re there. We’re all walking around in this soup of chemicals.
The EU took a look and, starting in 2005, banned all carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins from use in cosmetics and hair dye. In Europe, companies are finding alternatives to these substances. It’s not like European women are running around not using cosmetics. Industry is coming up with alternatives left and right because there’s a resurgence of research into green chemistry because of these initiatives.
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. Many of our industries are now losing ground to European industry.
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 EU’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.