Sex, lies and hazardous chemicals

Feature story - May 4, 2006
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.

Mother and baby protest at chemical company BASF, which has been lobbying against stronger laws on hazardous chemicals.

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

Our report, ' Fragile: Our reproductive health and chemical exposure',collates the findings of a number of scientific studies. Together, thestudies show for the first time a comprehensive picture of an increasein reproductive health disorders, mirroring the rising presence in ourlives of man-made chemicals.

Fix required, but trashing in progress

At least in Europe there is an attempt underway to address growingconcerns about chemical pollution and the effects of hazardouschemicals on public health and the environment. A new law (REACH) isbeing drafted but has come under unprecedented, concerted attack fromthe chemical industry.

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

  • Denying and undermining the health and environmental problems caused by hazardous chemicals.
  • Deliberately exaggerating potential costs and scare-mongeringabout job losses to mislead and intimidate European politicians intowatering down the REACH proposal. Actual costs of the law will be atiny fraction of the chemical industry's huge profit margins.
  • 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 closeand knows it's not pretty: "Lack of accountability and transparency inBrussels decision-making comes at the cost of public interestlegislation. The chemicals industry's corrosive campaign to destroyREACH thus far has depended on the willingness of key officials toabandon their role as public servants and behave like industrylobbyists."

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 hazardouschemicals will cost too much , the income of BASF rose 50 percent to ahuge US$3.7 billion! With those profits, BASF can afford to maintain aclose relationship with many politicians. In 2005, over 235 politiciansreceived money from BASF in Germany alone.

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

To expose the dark side of BASF, we turned up at the company's annualmeeting with mothers demanding that BASF stop producing chemicals thatcontaminate 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 beborn with hazardous chemicals in his or her body. I find it totallyimmoral that companies like BASF can continue to produce such chemicalseven when safer alternatives exist. Help me to stop this madness andprotect the health of all of our children."

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

If you live in Europe you can pressure European politicians to resistindustry lobbying and demand that publicly elected officials stand upfor your rights.

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Pressure European politicians to resist industry lobbying and demand that publicly elected officials stand up for your rights.

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