Sex, lies and hazardous chemicals

Posted by bex — 8 May 2006 at 7:00am - Comments

A mother carrying a baby wears a shirt reading "stop contamining my baby!"

What business does a chemical company have between your bedroom sheets? Should chemical companies be meddling with the protection of your health? Of course they should have no business in your sex life or personal health, but unfortunately the chemical industry is fighting hard to protect their privilege to make hazardous chemicals with the potential to seriously affect both.

Across the industrialised world sperm counts have fallen as much as 50 percent in the last 50 years (the 'endangered sperm', anyone?). Infertility rates have more than doubled in industrialised countries since the 1960s, while testicular cancer has become increasingly common. Reproductive system birth defects are increasing in baby boys. The exact cause of these changes is unknown but one of the suspects is our exposure to the increasing amount of hazardous chemicals in our daily lives. So great is our exposure that unborn children can be exposed to over 100 manmade industrial chemicals while still in the womb. Many of these substances have the potential to harm the development of an infant's reproductive system.

Our report, Fragile: Our reproductive health and chemical exposure (pdf), collates the findings of a number of scientific studies. Together, the studies show for the first time a comprehensive picture of an increase in reproductive health disorders, mirroring the rising presence in our lives of man-made chemicals.

Fix required, but trashing in progress

At least in Europe there is an attempt underway to address growing concerns about chemical pollution and the effects of hazardous chemicals on public health and the environment. A new law (REACH) is being drafted but has come under unprecedented, concerted attack from the chemical industry.

The chemical industry has led a massive lobby effort in Brussels to make sure the new law will do more to protect their short-term profit rather than provide long term solutions to chemical contamination of our environment, our homes and our bodies. Some of the 'highlights' of the chemicals industry's efforts to trash REACH include:

  1. Denying and undermining the health and environmental problems caused by hazardous chemicals
  2. Deliberately exaggerating potential costs and scare-mongering about job losses to mislead and intimidate European politicians into watering down the REACH proposal. Actual costs of the law will be a tiny fraction of the chemical industry's huge profit margins.
  3. Actively slowing down and stalling the process of drafting REACH in an attempt to prevent it ever becoming law.

Our man in Brussels, Jorgo Riss has seen this industry lobby up close and knows it's not pretty: "Lack of accountability and transparency in Brussels decision-making comes at the cost of public interest legislation. The chemicals industry's corrosive campaign to destroy REACH thus far has depended on the willingness of key officials to abandon their role as public servants and behave like industry lobbyists."

Putting a face to the lobby

One of the main backers of the lobby effort is German chemical giant BASF.

While industry has argued that extra protection from hazardous chemicals will cost too much, the income of BASF rose 50 percent to a huge US$3.7 billion! With those profits, BASF can afford to maintain a close relationship with many politicians. In 2005, over 235 politicians received money from BASF in Germany alone.

We have been pressuring European politicians to stand up for the interests of the people who actual elected them rather than the chemical industry. Now we are exposing the companies who lobby against health and the environment.

To expose the dark side of BASF, we turned up at the company's annual meeting with mothers demanding that BASF stop producing chemicals that contaminate their babies.

Ulrike Kallee was at the BASF meeting: "When I learned I was pregnant, I was immediately distressed by the knowledge that my child will be born with hazardous chemicals in his or her body. I find it totally immoral that companies like BASF can continue to produce such chemicals even when safer alternatives exist. Help me to stop this madness and protect the health of all of our children."

At the Danish BASF headquarters pregnant women protested the production by BASF of chemicals that are known to contaminate unborn babies.

If you live in Europe you can pressure European politicians to resist industry lobbying and demand that publicly elected officials stand up for your rights.

Follow Greenpeace UK