Today, we have one of the most skeptical consumer bases ever, which is a great benefit for consumer advocates, eco-warriors and activists alike. Shoppers are learning to read the ingredients, look for eco-friendly products, and research where their food really comes from. But when it comes to a lot of everyday products, many consumers still trust corporations and government entities to determine what’s safe. Unfortunately, these agencies aren’t always “on the ball,” and companies greedy for profits still sometimes ignore potential dangers. Here are three products with evidence of danger that are still on the market and not banned by the FDA or EPA.
Do you remember the advice we used to get about nonstick pans? “If you scratch it, throw it away!” Honestly, I never listened to that. As far as I was concerned, the pan still worked, so why all the worry? Well, it’s because up until a few years ago, the majority of nonstick cookware was made with Teflon.
Teflon was actually a total accident. Researchers at a lab were attempting to create a better refrigerant, and they accidentally made the super slippery substance later dubbed Teflon by the company that owned the lab, DuPont. When it hit the markets, Teflon pans became all the rage, and other companies quickly caught on. After all, what could be better than making eggs, sauces, chicken and more without burning the bottom of the pan? Cleanup was so much easier, and America loved it.
Here’s the stick: Teflon contains chemicals called poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which over 200 scientists have agreed are carcinogenic. When the pots and pans made with Teflon are heated up, even for as little as 2-5 minutes, they release these toxins into the air that can then be inhaled. The “scratching” issue isn’t just about a less nonstick surface– eating the coating is dangerous too. In fact, in higher levels of exposure, the chemicals are so toxic that DuPont has been found guilty in several cases of wrongful death by people whose water was contaminated by nearby manufacturing plants creating Teflon.
Now, the EPA has agreed that substances similar to PFAS are carcinogenic, and in 2005 they gave DuPont a heavy fine for hiding information regarding the hazards of Teflon. In 2010, the government agency created a voluntary program to encourage companies to stop using these chemicals in their nonstick pan coatings by 2015. However, though the Teflon brand name is no longer used, companies continue to produce nonstick cookware containing PFAS, since there has never been an official ruling or ban on the chemicals.
What You Can Do
First off, if you have any pans made with Teflon, PFAS or the modern version by a company called Chemours, get rid of them! There is simply no need to put yourself at risk. Nowadays, more aware companies will label their nonstick pans as PFAS-free, so be sure to check for that while shopping. Also remember that there are more nonstick options today, like hard anodized cookware, which does not involve these harsh chemicals. Your eggs and chicken will still come out beautifully, and cleaning can still be a breeze, with the added benefit of being non-toxic.
- Talcum Powder
Women have been told for decades that our “downstairs” needs cleaning, needs purifying, needs to smell like a bouquet of flowers. Whether or not you ascribe to that way of thinking, you should definitely be mindful of what you are putting in that most sensitive area of your body!
Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder might be marketed for infant diapers, but women have used it to “freshen” up for years. In fact, the product became so popular with adult women that the company created a second powder, called Shower-2-Shower, just for us. Both of these products contained talcum powder, which is created by fine particles of talc. No one would believe that the “family company” had created a dangerous product. However, in the 70’s a group of doctors studying ovarian cancer found that 75% of their patients had talc particles present on the ovaries. It was the first link between talc and ovarian cancer, and the beginning of one of today’s largest debates.
Four juries have already found enough connection between the use of these products and women’s diagnoses to issue verdicts against Johnson & Johnson in recent talcum powder lawsuits. The industry leader has been forced to shell out millions of dollars to pay for the medical expenses and pain and suffering these women have endured. But, the company continues to deny that there is any link between their products and ovarian cancer.
Unfortunately, these products fall into the cosmetics category. While the FDA does regulate talc in food products, cosmetics aren’t required to be screened. Despite the fact that talc is banned from cosmetics in the European Union and the jury verdicts that sided with the plaintiffs, the FDA has yet to issue its own ruling banning the product. What makes this even worse is that talc can sometimes be contaminated with asbestos, which has been outright connected to an incurable form of cancer called mesothelioma. If that’s not enough, though J&J denies the connection, they do now offer talc-free baby and shower powders.
What You Can Do
Again, it’s time to check your cosmetics cabinets and drawers. Although Johnson & Johnson is at the forefront of this issue, there are a TON of cosmetic products still made with talcum powder. Most notably, you can find the substance in face powders and bronzer. Then, find the alternatives. An easy substitute for talc in cosmetics is baking soda, so many companies have started to use that instead. If you see “sodium bicarbonate” as an ingredient (and don’t see talc), you’re good to go. Additionally, don’t freak out if you’ve used a talc-containing product a few times. Though the danger is real, it takes years of exposure to significantly increase risk.
Another chemical in the spotlight right now, glyphosate, is found in a popular weed killer called Round-Up, made by Monsanto Company. Round-Up is considered to be the most used herbicide in the world, used by the agriculture industry for crops and by home gardeners, too. Now, the most pressing danger comes from the weed killer itself, which has been connected with cancer, as well as liver and kidney issues. However, when sprayed on wheat fields and other crops, the pesticide is hard to remove completely, and trace amounts have been found on popular products like Quaker Oats and Cheerios.
Though the legal battles are ongoing, Monsanto just lost a serious bid against the state of California, which has added glyphosate to its list of known carcinogens. The FDA has also just begun a series of tests on the herbicide, in response to enormous backlash from the public for being too lenient on the issue.
The EPA has also studied glyphosate and previously concluded that it was not a carcinogen. However, with new studies on the rise that state the opposite, it may be time for the EPA to take a closer look. And again, while we have “tolerances” for the amount of glyphosate we permit to be found on food products, we are less cautious than our European counterparts, allowing in some cases double the herbicide on our food than they do.
What You Can Do
The trials on glyphosate are a perfect opportunity to learn more about the process we have for approving what goes on crops and food. Especially because both the FDA and EPA are involved, it’s a useful example into the legal process behind evaluating product safety. I highly encourage people to stay tuned into the legal proceedings on this one!
Of course, if you’ve been using Round-Up weed killer in your garden, this is also a great impetus to switch to an eco-friendly option. There are amazing green weed-killing products out there. Or, go the old-fashioned way! The internet has lots of tips and tricks on how to prevent weeds and pests, from companion planting to homemade organic remedies. Try some other use tips at 10-common-weeds-and-organic-methods-to-remove-them! Please check out — and Manage-your-organic-garden-pests-the-natural-way!
The biggest thing here is: don’t panic. If you’ve eaten Quaker Oats in the past year, used Baby Powder once in a while, or have a Teflon pan hiding in the back of your cupboard, chances are you’ve had minimal exposure to these ingredients. If you have had significant exposure and are worried about your health, talk to your doctor. And if you’ve had exposure and been diagnosed, reach out to a lawyer. There are plenty of people at the ready to help you, no matter your situation! For more information on your legal rights, check out this page.
Also, take this as a cue to become a more conscientious consumer. Product safety is more than buying from the organic food section. It affects products in all areas of our lives, and we can’t always rely on for-profit companies to truly do the right thing. Before you buy a product, do a quick search online. Look at 3rd party reviews on safety and reviews by eco-warrior sites that are known for their scrutiny. Advocating for yourself as a consumer is the best way to convince these big companies to make change, so get out there and get informed!