Toxicologist Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT, a regular guest who is helping us understand the toxicity of common chemicals we may be frequently exposed to. Dr. Gilbert is Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and author of A Small Dose of Toxicology- The Health Effects of Common Chemicals.He received his Ph.D. in Toxicology in 1986 from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, is a Diplomat of American Board of Toxicology, and an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington. His research has focused on neurobehavioral effects of low-level exposure to lead and mercury on the developing nervous system. Dr. Gilbert has an extensive website about toxicology called Toxipedia, which includes a suite of sites that put scientific information in the context of history, society, and culture. www.toxipedia.org
LISTEN TO OTHER SHOWS WITH STEVEN G. GILBERT, PhD, DABT
- Toxics in the Air We Breathe—Indoors and Outdoors—and How it Affects Our Health
- Toxic Solvents and Vapors
- How Pesticides Can Harm Your Health
- Why Do People Doubt the Science Behind Toxics?
- There is No Safe Level for Lead Exposure
- Fewer Chemicals Make Healthier Babies
- Why We Shouldn’t Have Nuclear Power Plants
- How Mercury Affects Your Health
- Persistant Bioaccumulative Toxicants
- How Endocrine Disruptors Disrupt Our Endocrine Systems
- The Dangers of Exposure to Radiation and How to Protect Yourself
- Toxics Throughout History—Exposure to Toxic Substances is Not New
- The Ethics of Toxics
- The Basic Principles of Toxicology
- Meet a Toxicologist
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
How to Determine Your Risk of Harm from an Exposure to a Toxic Chemical
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT
Date of Broadcast: November 12, 2013
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world.
Today is Tuesday, November 12, 2013. And the reason that we talk about this is because we live in a very toxic world. There are toxic chemicals all around us, and they’re making a lot of people sick in a lot of different ways.
But we don’t have to get sick from them. We do need to clean them up. We do need to be choosing the right products, so that we’re not exposed to toxic chemicals. But there’s a lot that we can do to make those right decisions, and to protect ourselves.
And there are a lot of people who are doing good work in the world, in order to help us understand these things, to change regulations, to make good products.
And those are my guests on this show—people who can help us make sense of this crazy toxic world, and learn what it is that we can do to protect ourselves and others.
Today, we’re going to be talking about risk.
Now, I didn’t even think of associating the whole field of risk management with toxic chemicals until a few years ago when I was invited to give a seminar at a conference for insurance agents.
And as a good public speaker, I thought, what could I possibly say to insurance agents that would make a connection for them between their interest and my subject?
And as I started looking at it, of course, a whole field of risk management because what insurance is about is determining what is the risk that they’re taking in insuring somebody against some harm that’s going to come to them.
And there actually is a whole methodology to figuring this out, and a whole logic of how to think of this. And when I looked at that, I thought, this absolutely applies to toxic chemical exposure so much so that I included it at the time I was writing my book, Toxic-Free, and I wrote a whole chapter about risk management.
So today, toxicologist, Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT, is going to be back with us, and he’s been on before a couple of times, so please go look up his other shows and listen to them, as well as this one, because he knows so much about toxicology. And I’m having him on regularly to share all of that with us.
And today, we’re going to just talk about this piece of risk management, so that we can reduce the risk of having harm from toxic chemical exposures.
Hi, Dr. Gilbert.
STEVEN GILBERT: Hey, Debra. Thanks for having me back.
DEBRA: You’re welcome! It’s my pleasure to have you on the show. So where should we start with risk management?
Before you say anything, I want to also say that you’re the author—Dr. Gilbert is the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology: The Health Effects of Common Chemicals. And you can go to his website, which is Toxipedia.org, and get this book for free. And it’s a very, very good introduction to toxicology, the whole field of toxicology, and you’ll understand a lot more about what we need to be concerned about in making decisions as consumers, if you take a look at this book, and it’s free.
So go to his website, and get this free book.
Okay, Dr. Gilbert, it’s your turn.
STEVEN GILBERT: There’s actually a chapter on risk assessment and risk management in the book.
DEBRA: I have that right in front of me.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s great. And each chapter, we’ll come to the PowerPoint presentation that you can download if you might want to do that.
DEBRA: I love reading it out of the PDF.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s good! So, risk is really interesting. We manage risk all the time. I bet you drove into work today?
DEBRA: I work at home. I have no risk in walking from my bedroom, or my kitchen, into my office.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s great. I work at home also most of the time.
But risk, if you think of automobiles, we drive automobiles, there’s a lot of risk in automobiles. And we use seatbelts to mitigate some of that risk. That mitigation was actually enacted into law.
So, sometimes, we do a very good job at managing risks. we get great benefits from wearing seatbelts. It’s just a little bit of a hassle. But we know about the risk. And the first thing about risks is you’ve got to know what the end point is, what risks you’re worried about, and what kind of exposure you have. So, you’ve got to know what hazard you have, what’s hazardous.
Automobiles, it’s pretty straightforward, it’s injury with that. But with chemicals, it can be a wide range of potential hazards and complications. And then you manage the exposure to that.
DEBRA: That’s a very good summary of what I understand risk management to be.
STEVEN GILBERT: So really, the second most important words in toxicology is dose response or exposure response, what’s the dose that causes the response. In toxicology, you’re really dealing with adverse response. And then, hazard times exposure equals risk. So, is there a hazard? What is that hazard? How much exposure we have? And that will help us define the risk.
You really want to factor individual susceptibility into that. Some people will be more susceptible than others, like children, for example, who eat more, breathe more and drink more than adults do. So therefore, they have a small amount of exposure that translates into a much bigger dose which increase their risk.
DEBRA: I totally agree. I think that one of the most difficult parts of this is determining what is the hazard and also the individual susceptibility part. I’ve been doing a lot of research on toxic chemicals lately, and there’s not always agreement on how harmful something is—or maybe I shouldn’t say it’s not as people aren’t in agreement as to how harmful it is, but there sure is difficulty in sometimes getting people to understand that there is a harm—that you can look at a lot of studies. You can look at how you feel in your own body, but there’s a lot of toxic chemicals that are in products and easily available for exposure that shouldn’t be.
And they could be taken off the market, they could be banned, all those things, and they aren’t yet being.
And so there’s that whole question of where is the hazard, which is one thing, like what is the inherent toxicology of something.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, you raised a really good question. I think I’d carry it just a little further than that. Sometimes, the hazard industry or other interests create a lot of uncertainty around a potential hazard.
DEBRA: Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say.
STEVEN GILBERT: It’s a real key part of this discussion. Those industries and tobaccos are great example of that. Our tobacco industry, for years, created a lot of uncertainty about the potential health effects of tobacco, clouding the issue, raised the issue, “Does cigarette smoking really cause lung cancer?” It’s clear it does, but they clouded that issue. They did a lot of things to create a lot of uncertainty, so that delayed a lot of regulations on that.
And that’s been a problem with many different chemicals.
One of the most recent ones is Bisphenol-A, which some of your listeners might be aware of. And many of us are exposed to Bisphenol-A. We excrete it in our urine. And did we ever give consent? Did we ever consent to be exposed to Bisphenol-A?
And then, we’re just learning more about the low-level effects, low-level endocrine disruptor effects, of something like
But I think it really is rying to understand the hazard, what potential hazardous health effects are, but it’s also trying to learn about exposure. Industry is not required to even disclose that some of these chemicals are in the products we’re using.
Pthalates is a great example of that.
DEBRA: Yes, a lot of these chemicals aren’t on the label. And so then if we’re trying to do a risk assessment and follow those guidelines that you offered earlier of knowing what is the hazard, knowing where the exposure is, factoring your individual susceptibility, and the considering what you could do instead to reduce the risk, we don’t even have the data a lot of times.
And this is part of why I wanted to talk about this today is because if we could look on a label and see, for example, that in a jar of apple sauce, there are apples and there are pesticides, then we could say, “Well, I’m going to choose this one that has no pesticides over the one that has pesticides.”
But what we have in the world today is that the jar says apples, and then another one says organic apples. And they don’t tell you that there are pesticides in the one with the apples. They just tell you that this other one over here is organic.
And I really think that if there were requirements, even if none of these chemicals got banned, if they were on the label of every single product, especially the most toxic ones…
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, I really agree with you. I think we need more transparency and more disclosure of what chemicals are in a product. Washington State just voted—and California the year before—on a proposition to label genetically modified food. And it was defeated by industry pouring tens of millions of dollars into the [inaudible 09:40].
But that’s an example where I think we have a right to know. We have a right to know what’s in our products, what’s in our cosmetics, what’s in our personal care products, what chemicals we are being exposed. That’s the first step to figuring out what the hazard might be and how to reduce exposure to these chemicals.
DEBRA: We need to take a break, but we’ll be right back with Dr. Steven Gilbert, toxicologist, and author of A Small Dose of Toxicology. And we’ll be talking about how we can assess the risk of different toxic chemicals in our consumer products.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And this is Toxic Free Talk Radio.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, toxicologist, and author of A Small Dose of Toxicology: The Health Effects of Common Chemicals. And you can get that book free on his website at Toxipedia.org.
Dr. Gilbert, let’s talk about—take us through risk assessment for something, a product or a chemical. What are the steps that you would do?
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s a great question. And to lead off to that question, a risk assessment is a formal process where you gather data on exposure and response, and then you try to bring all data together to come up with some potentially least harmful levels of exposure to that chemical.
But I want to read a quote from William Ruckelshaus who was the first administrator of the US EPA in 1984. And he said, “We should remember that risk assessment data can be like the captured spy. If you torture it long enough, it will tell you anything you want to know.”
And I think that has been a real problem. We were just discussing the uncertainty that some people create around a chemical and the potential hazard. And that’s a real problem.
So, it is that you take risk assessment data, but it is very malleable. It’s very tough to come to an agreement on exactly what kind of exposure would be acceptable.
DEBRA: I think that these decisions are being made at different levels, like the government is deciding, and they’re not exactly objective because they’re being influenced by a lot of factors. But the government is deciding what do they think are chemicals that—what is the risk factor for how much you can be exposed to, to a chemical, in order to allow it in certain things.
There are regulations that say, “This amount of chemical can be allowed in our tap water” because the government has decided that they think that that’s the risk.
Now, I personally don’t think that I’m willing to take on that risk. And so I, for example, reduce my risk of exposure to those toxic chemicals in tap water by putting a water filter on my water, so that I can drink water that has fewer or none of those chemicals that the government thinks that it’s okay for me to risk being exposed to.
Different governments around the world incidentally have different opinions about what is safe for their citizens to be exposed to. And in my many countries, the regulations are much different than they are here in the United States.
STEVEN GILBERT: That’s very true. In some countries, Europe in particular, takes a more precautionary approach to looking at chemicals and potential risk of chemicals. So that means that they are putting the burden of demonstrating safety on the proponents of an activity.
And we do that. When we put drugs out in the marketplace, the Food and Drug Administration requires that the pharmaceutical and biotech industry provide significant data that show efficacy of the product that we’re being exposed to, and is it safe or what is the potential hazard for that product.
We don’t have similar process for industrial chemicals. We do some of that with pesticides, but our Chemical Policy Reform Act really needs to be moved forward. Right now, we’re governed by TSCA, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 which is basically broken. And we consequently end up being exposed to a number of chemicals.
The other thing I want to mention was that risk assessment deals with one chemical at a time, but we’re not exposed to just one chemical at a time […]
DEBRA: We’re not just exposed to drinking water too, which has a range of chemicals in it. We’re exposed to—how many products are we exposed to during the day, hundreds? And each one of those has its own combination of chemicals.
So by the time you put them all together—a part of chemistry is that scientists are looking at the reaction of one substance with another, and what else does it make. We’re not looking at that as consumers. Nobody’s looking at that as consumers. Nobody is saying that once you mix even two or three products, the chemicals that are in two or three products together, what is going to come up with that. And then when you put all the chemicals we’re exposed to in our bodies, how are they interacting with each other?
Until I’ve decided for myself, after more than 30 years of study of this, that this is way too big a risk to just be wondering around in the world, being exposed to all the possible chemicals that are out there.
I just decided that I’m just going to do whatever I can to reduce the amount that I’m being exposed to because by doing that, that reduces the risk of harm.
STEVEN GILBERT: I think that’s very wise and a precautionary approach. I think we do need, as much as possible, to reduce our exposure to chemicals to mitigate the risk.
And if we learn more about some chemicals, we recognize the risk as greater. Lead is a great example of that. The more we studied lead, we recognized that there is no safe lead exposure. And yet, a few years ago, we had toy products coming in from overseas that had lead-based paint on them. And who plays with these toys but kids. So we’re putting our most vulnerable and susceptible population at risk for very silly things, like having a brighter colored paint, and not being aware of the manufacturing process in another country.
So, it’s very important that we manage these risks. And we often have the information and knowledge to do that, we just don’t take the precautionary approach to manage these risks well.
DEBRA: Well, I think that this whole thing about risk management is actually a skill that everybody needs to learn. I didn’t know until I went to speak at this insurance seminar, insurance conference, that risk management even existed as a field, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about it today, just to make more people aware that there is a tool for assessing risk, so that you can make wise decisions about what your exposure is to toxic chemicals.
And I know we have a break in just a few seconds, so let’s talk more about that after we have the break. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And today, we’re talking about risk management with my guest, Dr. Steven Gilbert, and he’s the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology: The Health Effects of Common Chemicals. And you can get a copy of that for free at his website, Toxipedia.org. We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert. And he is also the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology. You can get that book for free on his website at Toxipedia.org.
I want to read just a little paragraph from the risk management chapter of my book Toxic-Free. And I was trying to describe this. I had to figure out this whole thing about risk management—how does it work? What’s going on with it?
And I came up with a little example.
Here in Florida where I live, we have alligators in the water. This is definitely a hazard because if you go in the water with alligators, there is a high probability that alligators will attack your body. But here’s the important thing to grasp. An alligator in the water is not a risk until you put your body in the water.
Likewise, a toxic chemical is not a risk until you put your body next to it, or put it next to or on or in your body.
So we could be living in this whole toxic world, but it’s really not affecting you until it comes near your body, or you put your body near it. The number one thing in treating poisoning, the first thing that you do is you take the person away from the poison.
And so this is what we need to be looking at, is how we determine what’s a poison, and then where is it, and how can we stay away from it.
Those, I think, are the two biggest key questions that we need to be able to answer, and there are difficulties in answering both of them.
STEVEN GILBERT: And you’ve got to know that there’s an alligator in the water.
DEBRA: You have to know there is an alligator in the water. And then you need to know where is the alligator. Where’s the water with the alligator?
STEVEN GILBERT: There’s another route around it. And I think that, with toxic chemicals, we often don’t know that toxic chemicals are there. We’re not given sufficient information to know that that’s a potential hazard.
DEBRA: This is the number one thing that I think that we need to be fixing in the world because it’s not that there’s no field of toxicology. Certainly, you’ve been working in the field of toxicology for all these years. I’m not a toxicologist, but I’ve studied a lot of it for more than 30 years as a consumer advocate.
And so we know that there are dangers, we know how to assess risk and stuff, but what we’re missing is just that data about how products can affect us, and where are those toxic chemicals in our daily lives.
Dr. Gilbert, could you tell us—I’m looking at your book, and there’s this really good part starting on page 258, where you just give more details about each of the steps of risk assessment, hazard identification, and those—could you just start with hazard identification? I know we’ve been talking a lot about that, but I think that most people listening don’t have any idea what’s going on behind the scenes in the world of toxicology to assess the hazard.
Can you just explain part of that?
STEVEN GILBERT: Toxicology, a lot of toxicology is driven by risk assessment. And hazard identification is a big part of that.
So, one of the first steps of hazard identification is to look at structure/activity relationship. If it’s a new compound (or an old compound), does the compound look like another compound that we know something about?
And then you look to see do we have data, human or animal data, that would help us determine if an agent has a biological effect.
You can also look for cell culture data, and then do cell culture experiments to learn about mutagenicity and the potential for carcinogenicity.
And then, really, you’re trying to identify the hazard, but the trick with identifying the hazard is looking at what the end point might be. Is it a carcinogenic compound that’s going to cause cancer? Is it going to affect the immune system? Is it going to have reproductive effects, alter reproductive function, or cause transgenicity which is a malformed infant?
Is it going to be organ-specific? Is there ecological effects? Is it going to affect something in the wildlife? Is there a neurobehavioral effect? Is that going to affect the central nervous system development?
So, you have to go through a range of these things, of these types of questions. And I think the big problem with risk assessment is we end up doing risk assessments with the data we have, not necessarily the data we want.
And then, we are getting through all these hazard identification, the next step is characterizing the risks and looking at exposure—in particular, in doing dose response studies—to look at is there a low-level effect or you’re just seeing it at very high doses. So, that’s very important.
And now, we want to focus on which effect is the most likely outcome that you want to study and really focus on and do additional studies to understand.
Along with that, you want to understand susceptibility. There is some population that’s more susceptible. Are children more susceptible? Are the elderly more susceptible? Or are women of child-bearing age more susceptible? Are the developing fetus more susceptible? You’ve got to ask some important questions about that.
And then, the next thing is to try to bring all this data together to help you understand the risk that you’ve got. You’ve got to actually throw specific numbers about that and try to establish, through dose response experiments, specific numbers that might be a safe level of exposure.
DEBRA: Doesn’t that sound really complicated?
STEVEN GILBERT: It’s complicated. It can be very costly. But I think this is what needs to be done with frequent high-volume chemicals that we’re exposed to a lot of. Industry is not required to do or release a lot of this data. They have confidential business information, so a lot of data did not come out.
As I’ve mentioned before, the EPA’s response to many industrial scale chemicals, they don’t have the regulatory authority like the FDA does to require additional testing.
DEBRA: One of the things that has struck me over the years is that there is no one standard for how all products are evaluated, that different groups of products, pesticides, are regulated by a different agency than cleaning products, for example, and personal care products are regulated by a different agency than drugs.
And each one has a different standard by what needs to be revealed on the label, how things get labeled. And for example, in food products, you have to put on the label all the ingredients, and in the order of how much is in it is first.
And in cleaning products, which are much, much, more toxic, you don’t have to list all the ingredients at all. You just need to put a warning label on it.
So it’s really, really inconsistent and even within something like particle board, which is emitting formaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical, if it’s in a big sheet, it requires a warning label. If you cut it up and make furniture out of it, it doesn’t.
And so these are all really, really inconsistent, and if we just had one regulation that said that every product, no matter what it is, needs to put down all its ingredients. I think the world would be a very different place. We would be able to assess much better instead of having all these things, hidden away by all these regulations.
We’re going to talk more when we come back from the break with Dr. Steven Gilbert. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, this is Toxic Free Talk Radio. And we’re talking about risk assessment today.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, toxicologist and author of A Small Dose of Toxicology, which you can get for free on his website at Toxipedia.org.
And that has a very good chapter about risk assessment. You can also read more about risk assessment in my book, Toxic-Free, and you can just go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, and over in the right-hand columns, scroll down a little bit, and you’ll see a picture of the book cover for Toxic-Free, and it says underneath “start here” because it’s a good place to start on this whole subject is to read my book and Dr. Gilbert’s book too.
So just click on Toxic Free, it will take you to the page where you can order the book and read about risk assessment, and everything else.
Dr. Gilbert, since this is our last segment, I’d like to talk a little bit about managing risk by considering ways that we can reduce it. Number one would be something like just avoiding toxic chemicals all together, but we can also even reducing our exposure to toxic chemicals reduces our risk, and we can also share the risk with somebody else.
Give me your thoughts about how we can reduce our risk to toxic chemicals.
STEVEN GILBERT: I think the first thing is to learn a little bit more about the chemicals and what we’re exposed to and what chemicals are in the product, and then try to find out less toxic chemicals, less toxic products.
There are some very good websites out there. If you look at cosmetics, for example, there’s a website on cosmetics. It’s very good. They’ve been trying to figure out what chemicals are used in cosmetics and trying to find out the least toxic, potentially toxic products. So, I think that’s a good place to start.
And there are websites on toys. I think we really need to work to protect our children to have less toxic toys like the famous rubber ducky that have phthalates to keep it squishable. And so, we’re trying to reduce exposure to known hazard, the known potential chemical-laden products.
Trying to buy more organic products is always a good idea for the food area.
So, it’s really a matter of trying to control exposure. And you just have to constantly be looking at that. I think it’s unfortunate we don’t have a better system, a regulatory system, that makes that process a lot easier.
DEBRA: It would be a lot easier if our regulatory system did it for us, so that I wouldn’t have to do this.
So I’ll just mention on my website, you can go to Debra’s List, if you go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com. Near the top, there’s a button that says “shop” and it will take you to, on my website, Debra’s List, where I’ve been looking for all those toxic-free products for all these years, all the toxic-free products that I could find.
And even though I didn’t understand risk management, I knew that if I could identify where the hazard was, and then find something that didn’t have that toxic chemical in it as an alternative, then that would be better.
And so you can go there and you can find non-toxic cleaning products, and organic clothing, and just anything that you’re looking for is probably there.
You can also go to my Q&A section on my website because lots of people have been asking exactly these questions—“Where can I find a toxic free shampoo?” things like this.
And a lot of my readers have been just pouring information into this Q&A blog for years. And there’s a lot of resources there that will help you find the products that don’t have these toxic chemicals.
I want to say that for me, it’s been a process of looking for—trying to understand where are the hazards, what are the toxic chemicals, just making lists of them, and saying, “I want to find products that don’t contain this and this and this.”
And for everybody, I think that list is going to be different—that some people are willing to risk being exposed to some lesser toxic chemicals where I’m not willing to be.
Here’s an example. If you look on a material safety data sheet, that only tells you the most toxic chemicals that are on a certain list that was determined to be the hazardous list. But there are other things like for example, food colors. I don’t eat food colors. I tell people not to eat food colors. They’re made from petroleum, from coal tar, but they won’t show up on a material safety data sheet because they’re not toxic enough for that list.
And this is where we need to be making the decisions for ourselves.
STEVEN GILBERT: We really do. I really encourage your listeners to talk to your legislator folks about the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Safe Products Act. We need to have a better regulatory system that helps consumers. And one of the key provisions of that was having more of a precautionary approach as well as more access to data about what’s in our product, more transparent.
We really do have a right to know what we’re putting on our skin, what we’re ingesting, and what we’re close to, and what we’re being exposed to. And that’s not being respected by industry right now.
DEBRA: No, it’s not. And we didn’t sign up for this experiment. And it is an experiment. We don’t even have a choice, and we need to have that choice and have this regulation.
Dr. Gilbert, tell my listeners more about TSCA and what needs to be reformed.
STEVEN GILBERT: TSCA was, in fact, in 1976. And the idea was they would help provide data about industrial chemicals that were going to be widely used. And the problem was that EPA has to clear these chemicals for use. Industry has to report to EPA that they’re going to use a certain chemical. And there’s a very short timeframe for EPA to revise it.
And they would control those chemicals. There are 80,000 chemicals now that are potentially out there, many of them high volume production of about over a thousand chemicals at a million pounds per year. And then we don’t know all we need to know about potential hazards.
The bill really broke down over a court decision about asbestos. So the EPA lost a lot of its authority to really require industry to provide sufficient data to gauge the potential safety and hazards of a compound.
So, there’s been a big push over the last few years to try to amend that. That’s going on in Europe called the REACH Program, Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals. Europe is actually quite a ways ahead of us in trying to provide more data on these chemicals.
There have been some efforts at the state level. And so a lot of the states, we’re working on that. For example, Washing State banned lead, cadmium and phthalates in baby toys. But that goal was taken to the federal level. And they prevented a lot of our rules and regulations around that.
So we need national regulation that really provides more of a precautionary approach that requires industry to demonstrate the safety of a product, and not have the burden on the public to show the hazards of products in commerce.
That’s really where we are right now. We, being the public, and the government have to show that a product is hazardous before it regulates it. And it really should be in reverse where industry has to demonstrate safety before the product is released.
DEBRA: How would this one demonstrate safety?
STEVEN GILBERT: Well, that’s a good question. So we have a lot of experience with doing that. We know how to do that through [unintelligible 00:33:45] to the FDA. There’s a wide range of very carefully quantified tests, toxicology tests. There’s a thing called Good Laboratory Practice, rules and regulations that require very strict protocols for doing the studies, careful data evaluation, and review of the information. So it’s all above board.
So, we know how to do this. We just don’t do it. Like you mentioned before, there’s a lot of contradictory rules and regulations about this.
I also want to mention we have a thing called the Safety Factor that when we find a level of exposure that we think is safe, that number is usually divided by 10.
So there is some effort to make things safe, but we really don’t follow through with that in a lot of situations because we don’t know the end point that we really need to be looking at. Endocrine disruptors are a great example of that where we found that, at low level of exposure, there are hazard there that we didn’t expect.
So, we really need to be very vigilant and really do more studies to understand the potential hazards of a product and the chemicals that were used in the product.
DEBRA: I totally agree with you. And at the same time, I’m just looking at the decisions that I’ve made over the years for myself. And again, I’ll just say, I’m not a toxicologist. I’m not even a chemist. I’m not a scientist. I’m a musician.
So I stopped being a musician in order to write about this because I saw that toxic chemicals were making me sick. They were in my house, and nobody was talking about it. And I thought, “Well, they made me pretty sick. It took me a lot to recover from that, but I did. And I didn’t want other people to be sick.”
And my logic has always been to find whatever data I could find, and then make a decision to find a product that doesn’t have those things in it. With food, for example, it’s pretty easy to see there are pesticides, there are food colorings, there are artificial flavors, there are preservatives, there are nitrates—all of those things. And even refined ingredients—sugar, white flour, all those things, they all have known health effects.
And so then on the other end of the spectrum, I can just say, “Well, let’s go to organic food. Let’s eat whole foods that aren’t coming in plastic packaging that’s leeching plastic into the food.”
Why can’t the government look at it this way? It’s so simple. It looks so simple to me.
STEVEN GILBERT: It does seem so simple, doesn’t it? A lot of countries are talking about that. But a lot of people make a lot of money off of these products. And we subsidize a lot of farm bills and all kinds of policies that has really promoted cheap food that’s not always healthy food.
DEBRA: We’re actually coming up to the end of the show, so I need to say thank you for being here. And we’ll have you back again because you have so much great information. Thank you very much.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio.