Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is a coalition of activist groups and for-profit companies that are pushing Congress to pass costly legislation that many experts believe would lead to the over-regulation of many everyday products.
The Coalition is coordinated by a little-known group called the “Environmental Health Fund,” the “mastermind” of the environmental health movement, which recently changed its name to “Coming Clean, Inc.” The Coalition members are far from mainstream scientists and public health experts; its members include vaccine-questioning autism advocates, extreme “solar and wind only” environmentalists, and eco-businesses hoping to profit from anti-chemical hysteria.
Coming Clean has also set up and runs the Workgroup for Safe Markets, a coalition of groups opposed to the use of many chemicals approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is also a member of the larger Workgroup for Safe Markets.
Members of the coalition oppose the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation which would reform the current Toxic Substances Control Act to make it easier for the EPA to ban harmful chemicals.
Rather than create a national standard for chemical safety, SCHF wants to preserve the patchwork of differing—and sometimes contradictory—state regulations regarding chemical safety. For instance, under SCHF’s plan, paint or soap that receives the regulatory OK in New York might have to be reformulated to be sold in Texas or Massachusetts. The real goal of creating this patchwork of laws is force manufacturers to formulate products and materials to fit the most stringent laws possible—usually ones passed in California.
The Coalition does not disclose its funding sources. A search of public records reveals that a portion of its budget comes from left-of-center foundations, including the Tides Foundation, a “dark money” pass-through funding vehicle. The majority of the Coalition’s members are for-profit companies that make supposedly “natural” or “chemical-free” products, and would likely stand to gain from regulating standard consumer product companies.
Since the organization is secretively set up as a coalition and not an IRS-recognized nonprofit, it is not required to file documents that would reveal its funding levels and other organizational details. It’s ironic that one of the coalition’s main complaints is that companies aren’t transparent enough with their ingredients and formulations, when they hide their funding and agenda.
Anti-Vaccination, Anti-Science Extremists
Many members of the coalition have track records of pushing junk science in an effort to push their agenda, and at least three members of the coalition promote the discredited claim that childhood vaccinations cause autism. The phony autism claim started after Andrew Wakefield and other researchers published a study in The Lancet in 1998 claiming a link between vaccines and autism. That study has been widely discredited and 10 of the 13 authors have retracted the findings. The publishing journal also retracted the study, citing ethical misconduct on the part of Wakefield.
While most mainstream autism advocacy groups recognize that the link between austism and vaccinations has been discredited, a few radical members of the SCHF coalition continue to spread misinformation. One such member, Safe Minds, writes on its website:
There are legitimate questions as to whether the USA is over-vaccinating children, and there is evidence that vaccines contribute to autism in some children.
A state chapter of another autism advocacy group, the Autism Society, jumped to the defense of noted vaccine/autism scaremonger Jenny McCarthy, writing a blog entry “Big Pharma’s Phony ‘Grassroots’ Campaign to Stifle Vaccine Critic McCarthy.”
One of the environmental activist members of the Coalition, The Environmental Working Group, published a 2004 paper, “Overloaded? New Science, new insights about mercury and autism in children.” The paper reported that there are “serious concerns about the studies that have allegedly proven the safety of mercury in vaccines” and stoked fears that childhood vaccines like those for Measles, Mumps and Rubella are responsible for increased incidences of autism.
Vaccinations are necessary to avoiding dangerous epidemics—as many of the health-centered members of the Coalition such as the American Nurses Association recognize. We’ve already seen the fruits of the anti-vaccine movement—2013 was the worst year for measles outbreaks in 17 years and outbreaks were primarily concentrated in areas with low vaccination rates.
The primary function of the Coalition is to call attention to “dangerous” chemicals found primarily in consumer products. But the Coalition cherry picks which chemical studies and scientific findings to highlight based on their own agenda.
For instance, the Coalition argues that bisphenol-A is an “endocrine disrupter” and can cause hormonal changes in humans and should therefore be banned by the U.S. government.
However, the FDA (and other government agencies and bodies) has repeatedly found that low exposure to BPA is perfectly safe, and poses no health or safety concern. On the contrary, in many cases BPA serves as a safety measure to foods and other products. The agency has repeatedly denied requests by members of the Coalition to ban the chemical. The Coalition has even stirred up fear about potential harm from the presence of BPA on store receipts—a fear that has no basis in actual science.
The Coalition advises consumers to “minimize contact by taking only those receipts you really need.” But the medical and executive director at the American Council on Science and Health agrees that campaigns to ban BPA from receipts are ridiculous, stating that ”The scientifically baseless, politically motivated ban on its use in thermal cash-register receipts is inane and a waste of resources, intellectual and financial, and will serve to benefit only those hypocritical officials trying to exploit the public’s fear of chemicals.”
The Coalition also targets parabens, a preservative used in products like sunscreens, hair gels, shampoos, cosmetics, and lotions. The Coalition argues that parabens are also hormone disrupters. Yet the FDA has examined a range of studies on parabens and concludes that “there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens.”
Profiting from Chemical Scaremongering
If successful, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition would drive countless personal care, cleaning, and other products off the market. To replace everyday products made with Food and Drug Administration-approved chemicals, a number of “natural” businesses have sprung up to sell “chemical-free” products. Many of these very companies are members of the Coalition and stand to profit significantly from the removal of currently approved chemicals from the market.
In fact, these eco-businesses comprise the largest single group of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition members—138 businesses have signed on to the coalition.
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is also a member of another coalition known as the Workgroup for Safe Markets, which also works to end the use of chemicals. The Workgroup’s promotes links to “No Secrets” companies, a select group of companies that disclose all the ingredients in their products. Many of those companies promoted by the Workgroup and its allied activist members are also members of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition.