Chemicals Of Concern: A War On Science Is Bad Environmental Policy

So-called environmentalists, if nothing else, should be credited for their creativity in their war on chemicals.


For decades now, self-appointed protectors of the Earth have used a variety of methods to frighten policymakers and consumers into abandoning chemicals that pose little or no harm to people or the environment, but whose benefits to society and even the environment are undeniable. From lawsuits to scare campaigns on social media, these zealots try to rid American commerce of certain chemicals through any means necessary.

In recent years, environmentalists have taken their crusade to the state level, where a “blame and shame” campaign has taken hold in some legislatures. Through the passage of “Chemicals of Concern” laws, some states are sending very confusing signals to consumers.

While no one will disagree that listing dangerous chemicals is in the public interest, these state Chemicals of Concern lists fail because they are not based on sound science. In most cases, states just import findings from other jurisdictions — like Europe — where regulators don’t use real-world risk to conduct their assessments.

A “list of lists” leads to many false positives. Often times, perfectly safe chemicals end up on state concern lists based on a single determination by a European regulatory body or activist group.

Politicizing Science

One such example is a class of chemicals called silicones. In recent years, the European Union has adopted rules to restrict certain uses of silicones, which are found in thousands of consumer products from smartphones to winter coats. The EU’s decision to target silicones in personal care products has been roundly criticized for an incomplete assessment of the scientific evidence, an over-reliance on dubious computer models rather than real-world field tests, and a misguided regulatory philosophy that fails to properly consider the probability of actual harm.

Extensive studies by government agencies in Australia and Canada, as well as peer-reviewed research, have concluded that silicones present no risk to human health and do not constitute a long-term threat to the environment.

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that silicone materials — including three specific types, D4, D5, and D6 — are safe, the EU has refused to alter its stance. Even worse, the EU’s approach — thanks to state Chemicals of Concern laws and lists — is spreading to the U.S.

Chemicals Of Concern

States that lack the technical expertise or financial resources to conduct their own scientific impact studies often turn to larger government bodies, like the EU, when formulating their regulatory policies. As a result, the EU’s flawed approach to silicones has led several states to add D4, D5, and/or D6 to their Chemicals of Concern lists without adequate scientific scrutiny.

For example, as of last year, Maine listed D4, D5, and D6 as meriting special oversight. When regulators were urged to reconsider their determination based on exhaustive scientific evidence, officials responded that, while D6 would be delisted in light of the lack of evidence, D4 and D5 would remain listed. Why? Not because of the science, but solely because of the EU listing these as substances of very high concern. Maine ignored Canada’s determinations on the same substances.

It’s not just Maine — other states are basing their classification of D4, D5, and D6 on the EU’s policies as well. Minnesota, Vermont, and Oregon have similarly designated certain silicones as Chemicals of Concern because of the EU’s determination.

Imposing needlessly strict regulations on silicone materials threatens to impact important sectors of our economy. D4, D5, and D6 play a central role in the production of numerous silicone polymers that improve the quality, durability and safety of thousands of products while reducing prices for consumers.

Saving Lives With Silicones

Silicones coat airbags (which saved at least 2,756 lives in 2016), preventing them from deteriorating over time and keeping them gas-tight under pressure. Silicones are key components of LED light bulbs, which use about 90% less energy than incandescent lighting and generate more than $30 billion in savings for consumers.

Solar panels and wind turbines use silicones. The medical industry uses silicones so widely used that it’s virtually impossible to visit a hospital without touching silicone materials of some kind — whether it’s in medical tape, electronic covers, syringe coatings, IVs, catheters, bed cushions, breathing masks, ECG leads, CT machines, or any number of other medical items.

These products conserve energy and save lives.

Environmental regulation must follow science, not blacklist chemicals based on incomplete information. When U.S. state policymakers blindly import the worst of the EU’s regulations without scrutinizing the underlying reasoning, they are perpetuating policies that damage our economy, hurt consumers, waste energy and cost lives.

  • Pociask is president and CEO for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.

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Originally posted 2019-09-19 23:25:26.


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