It’s hard for the average consumer to plough through mountains of research on toxins that might be present in myriad products. Instead, consumers tend to rely on popular media outlets to inform them of which products are “good” and which are “evil”. One negative headline on Reuters and as a manufacturer and brand you’re in deep water.
But in all fairness, it can be equally challenging for manufacturers to keep up with the latest research and global regulations surrounding their products. Today, companies have to be able to track and document source materials, supply chain, and manufacturing practices to meet a complicated slew of legal requirements and gain the trust of the consumer.
I live in Sweden and our regulations (and those of Europe in general) are extremely rigid. Last spring there was an outcry when the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning revealed a brass facet in a residential home was the reason for high lead content in drinking water—twelve times more than the threshold limit value in fact.
Exposure to lead can damage the nervous system and result in impaired intellectual development and capacity, and brass often contains small amounts of lead which can be released into the water flow. The Swedish Chemicals Agency is investigating the facet manufacturer to confirm it properly checked for hazardous substances.
And this year’s Euro 2012 earned some negative headlines regarding harmful chemicals found in soccer shirts worn by fans worldwide. The European Consumer’s Organisation (BEUC) tested different team shirts and found that each contained toxic chemicals including lead and nickel.
Lead is just one of many potential harmful substances. Phthalates and Bisphenol A are two other substances which have been discussed rigorously over the last two years in Sweden. Bisphenol A has recently been banned in many children’s products—baby bottles for example.
Exposure to Bisphenol A has been linked to birth or developmental defects, cancer, and problems with the endocrine and reproductive systems.
Phthalates are hormone-mimicking chemicals found in toys, cosmetics, plastic, household products, and even in medication. The impact of phthalates is wide-ranging, from liver cancer to fetal neuro-developmental problems.
In the U.S., regulation of harmful chemicals can vary from state to state. The “Kids-Safe Products Act” in Maine is one of the strongest toxic chemical laws in the nation for example, while other states fall desperately short.
We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the impact of “chemical cocktails” on our daily lives, and with growing government regulation and consumer awareness, manufacturers must keep abreast of this issue or risk heavy fines and damaged reputations.
What are you doing to ensure your products are free of harmful chemicals?