September 25 2012
Manufactured Fear Drives Needless Regulations
As sure as the sun rises in the morning, Americans can count on their televisions and newspapers to brim with daily reports of all the dangerous products lurking in their homes. Women in particular are told commonplace items like shampoo, deodorant, plastic food containers, household disinfectants, children’s toys, baby bottles, and garden hoses threaten them and their families. Even living room furniture is now cast as a household killer.
Silicone is the latest item to come under scrutiny. Discovered in the mid-19th century by a Swedish chemist, nowadays the term silicone is most often associated with breast augmentation, but its uses go far beyond giving women the perfect décolletage. In fact, silicone is used in everything from car engines to cosmetics, prosthetic limbs and medical equipment. In other words, silicone has made life easier for modern man, so naturally the hyper-regulatory Environmental Protection Agency is on alert.
In 2011, the EPA announced it was interested in collecting environmental monitoring data for two materials in silicone—D4 and D5— to assess the chemicals’ potential impact on the environment. The EPA notified the silicone industry that it wanted to establish an environmental monitoring program at silicone manufacturing, processing and formulating facilities and select municipal waste water treatment plants that treat the chemical.
The silicone industry was quick to accommodate EPA’s request, voluntarily agreeing to monitor five municipal wastewater treatment sites. The sites would be selected in a way that allowed an assessment of the worst case scenario in terms of the potential harm that might be caused by the release of the chemicals to the environment.
The EPA wasn’t satisfied with industry’s plan, suggesting instead that the industry monitor a whopping 42 sites. Of course, the EPA never justified why so many sites needed monitoring for this risk assessment process, or what benefit would accrue from duplicative data from sites using the same treatment techniques.
But then high-powered regulatory agencies don’t really need to explain their motives or logic, do they? And they probably don’t care that this additional monitoring will come at a high price—to the tune of $50 million in redundant data collection.
While the EPA and the silicone industry hashed out the details of this monitoring arrangement, Canada began its own monitoring program. In 2012, the Canadiangovernment (well-known to be environmental sympathizers and heavy-handed regulators of the chemical industry) completed an assessment of the safety of silicone that was conducted by a panel of independent scientific experts. The scientists found that D5 does not pose a risk to the environment or to humans. On D4, the Canadian government only required pollution prevention plans—a pretty standard requirement for the chemical industry.
Reassuring, right? Not to the EPA. Despite being provided the results from the Canadian study, the EPA remained undeterred though they ultimately revised their proposal to include 16 sites. That may be less onerous, but still creates a needless burden for industry and the EPA again offers no justification for why 16 sites are needed. It’s almost like EPA just pulls these numbers out of thin air.
Such stubbornness betrays the EPA’s real intentions—to regulate certain industries, chemicals, and products that environmentalists and public health officials (their real constituency) view as hazardous despite their being no evidence of real danger. This is part of a larger trend, building a culture of alarmism in America. The tactic is simple: based on the idiom “better safe than sorry,” ubiquitous pseudo-scientific activist organizations promote the idea that a chemical poses a “potential risk.” They say there is a “chance of danger,” or that a “correlation” between a certain product and a dreadful disease exists.
This clever rhetorical trick is designed to plant the seeds of fear without the nuisance of producing proof. It’s understandable what happens next; people are simply more willing to accept regulations once they believe they and their children are at risk.
American women should be aware that these overzealous government agencies have little regard and no responsibility for economic growth in this country. The money used to satisfy the EPA would be better directed to job creation, the construction of new and better manufacturing sites, or research into products that would truly make life easier and safer for women and their families.
Instead, industry will waste time and money collecting data to satisfy a Washington bureaucrat who can’t speak Canadian.
This is the real reason for concern.
Julie Gunlock is the director of Women for Food Freedom, a project of the Independent Women's Forum.