What if the greatest chemical disaster of our time wasn’t an oil spill or a nuclear meltdown, but instead, constant, low-level chemical exposures affecting every person on the planet?
The Human Experiment, which is being released in theatres in San Francisco and across the nation on Thursday, poses this question, and as Congress debates this very issue, the timing couldn’t be more relevant. From Oscar winner Sean Penn and Emmy-winning journalists Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, the film explains how the chemical industry has maintained its reign over our nation’s regulatory system for the past four decades, resulting in a situation where products containing carcinogens like formaldehyde, benzene and ethylene oxide are still available on store shelves.
Could the film push forward comprehensive reform of our nation’s federal toxic law? According to the filmmakers, that’s up to all of us. And the lessons from the film equip us with the knowledge we need to thwart the chemical industry in maintaining its grip over the laws that are supposed to protect the health and wellbeing of every American.
The film profiles three activists– people directly impacted by diseases linked to chemical exposures: Breast cancer; a reproductive disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome; and autism.
Marika Holmgren, who is featured in the film, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32. “I was in great shape, in good health, wasn’t overweight, didn’t smoke, and did the things you’re supposed to do to keep yourself healthy.” As she began to connect with other young survivors, she realized she was not alone. “A lot of these women never drank alcohol, never ate meat, exercised constantly and had no family history. So you start to wonder: What’s the connection? Why are women this young getting cancer? Why did I get cancer?”
The filmmakers point out that childhood brain cancer, asthma, leukemia in children, early onset puberty, ADHD, genital deformities in baby boys and life-threatening birth defects are all on the rise since the dawn of the modern chemical revolution. In fact, over the last fifty years, chemical use in America has gone up by 200,000 percent. And, each day, 42 billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce. That’s enough to fill 623,000 tanker trucks.
The current Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the law responsible for regulating all industrial chemicals in commerce. Passed in 1976, the law has completely failed to protect the American public from toxic chemicals, even those as dangerous as asbestos. While there are more than 85,000 chemicals currently registered for use, only five have been banned or regulated in the past 39 years.
Consumer demand for safer products has led Congress into a heated debate that’s going on right now about how to reform and update TSCA. That debate has reached a critical juncture: Will Congress move forward, business as usual, with a bill that does more to protect the chemical industry or a bill that will truly put the health of the American public first?
Historically, journalistic exposés have had the power to change laws and policies. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle led to passage of the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring catalyzed the environmental movement of the 60s and 70s including passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and a nationwide ban on the toxic chemical DDT, not to mention the national holiday that’s fast approaching on April 22: Earth Day.
Since “The Human Experiment” was first released, Minnesota passed a ban on endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol-a; New York and Maryland banned toxic flame retardant chemicals in children’s products; and after years of advocacy, California Governor Jerry Brown overturned a flammability standard that required companies to stuff furniture with toxic, yet entirely ineffective,flame-retardant chemicals.
But these state laws are not enough. We need comprehensive, federal reform that protects every child, every pregant woman, every American. It’s time for real reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act that prioritizes the health of the American public over the interests of the chemical industry.
Act now to make 2015 the year Congress fixes the nation’s broken system for managing the safety of chemicals.
Bay area residents: Don’t miss an advance screening of The Human Experiment on Thurs. April 16, at 7 p.m., followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers, cancer experts and business leaders about ongoing opportunities to make the world a healthier and safer place for all of us.