By Mark Shapiro (Chelsea Green, 2008)

In 2005, the European Union (EU) agreed upon a new set of environmental standards that rocked the global market for household goods, resulting in a substantial increase in the types of hazardous compounds (from cadmium in electronics to phthalates in children’s toys) that could no longer be imported. In Exposed, investigative journalist Mark Schapiro explains the effect of these new standards on American producers; namely, how they have had to adapt to the new regulations or be shut out of the EU market. Schapiro’s account reveals an alarming disparity between EU and U.S. policies, showing how the “toxic load” of various U.S. household items far exceeds the new EU standards — in cosmetics, plastics, food, cars and chemicals. The EU, for instance, has banned phthalates (a common plastic softener), which multiple studies have linked to endocrine disruption. But, because of looser U.S. regulatory standards (here, the government must show “proven harm” to ban a substance), phthalates are still overwhelmingly present in our children’s plastic toys — not to mention cosmetics and other household items. Because such policies effectively make the American consumer his or her own regulator, it’s important to know the hazards presented by chemicals like phthalates and how to avoid them. Exposed makes that a much easier task, while presenting a very strong case for the link between individual, environmental and socioeconomic health.

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