Data on Chemical Risks Lacking

A recent cereal recall is pointing to a larger issue regarding a lack of oversight for <"">chemical exposures, writes The Washington Post. Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of a number of its popular brand name cereals, blaming increased levels of a chemical in the products’ packaging, noted The Washington Post.

Consumers complained of odd odors and tastes; many reported feeling sick with nausea and diarrhea. Kellogg maintained that there was “no harmful material” in the products, quoted The Washington Post. But 2-methylnaphthalene, the chemical involved, is largely a mystery to federal regulators. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no scientific background on the chemical’s response to humans and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as been looking for that very information from the chemical industry for over 16 years, said The Washington Post.

The EPA asked industry to submit health and safety data on 2-methylnaphthalene back in 1994, according to Mary F. Dominiak of the EPA, who noted that the chemical was being produced in large quantities then, wrote The Washington Post. Industry has never responded to the request and has yet to disclose that information, she said.

This problem points to larger issues involving what the government does and does not know about chemicals used in consumer items, said The Washington Post, which reported that the government—based on current regulations—does not really have any data on the health impacts of most of the 80,000 chemicals that can be found in today’s marketplace.

“It is really troubling that you’ve got this form of naphthalene that’s produced in millions of pounds a year and we don’t have some of the basic information about how toxic it is,” said Erik Olson, an expert at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is seeking an overhaul of chemical laws in the US, quoted The Washington Post. “In so many cases, government agencies are missing data they need on even widely used chemicals about whether they pose a health risk,” added Olson.

Part of the problem is that some 62,000 chemicals in commercial use in 1976 were excused from the Toxic Substances Control Act; 2-methylnaphthalene was among the exempted chemicals, said The Washington Post. Worse, chemicals developed since are not required to undergo safety testing and companies need only voluntarily provide information on their compounds’ health effects, according to The Washington Post. The government then determines if more testing is needed.

It’s possible that industry does not have the data since information pointing to harm a chemical can cause to human health and the environment must be provided to the EPA. It’s likely that manufacturers do not test chemicals as a way in which to avoid such reporting, said The Washington Post.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in 2005, found that nothing is known about 2-methylnaphthalene’s use concerning food, The Washington Post reported.

2-methylnaphthalene is a natural component of crude oil and is “structurally related to naphthalene,” which can be found in mothballs and toilet-deodorant blocks, and considered a potential human carcinogen by the EPA, said The Washington Post.

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