Technical capabilities continue to increase, and new chemicals and materials (e.g., nanotubes) will continue to be developed. Whether the toxicity of these new chemicals and materials will be more rigorously evaluated before being released to the markets will depend upon the wisdom or greed of the manufacturers and the toughness of federal regulations. A new journal, Green Chemistry, dedicated to research and development of sustainable, safe chemical technologies, gives us hope.
People will always desire new products that enhance their lives; now more and more people are demanding that the new products are safe. Farmers will still want to control crop pests (weeds, fungi and insects); nevertheless, farmers are beginning to resist the pressures of big agro-chemical companies, and organic farming is continuing to increase.
Companies will naturally continue to want products that can generate large revenues. Fortunately, many nonprofit organizations are scrutinizing new product offering that may pose health hazards.
Scientists in several organizations and universities are investigating the long-term health effects of many chemicals, including effects on the hormone and immune systems, the central nervous system, and reproduction, in addition to cancer. Federal science agencies such as the EPA Office of Children’s Health and the NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, as well as independent organizations, such as Healthy Child, Healthy World, have active programs that are investigating chronic health hazards.
Proposed new regulations or better enforcement of existing regulations is always fought by congressmen (seldom congress women, it seems) who are proxies for corporate lobbyists. Nevertheless, strong legislation for a safer environment is emerging, e.g., the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 in the U.S. Senate.
The emergent field of epigenetics will provide new insights into how foreign (toxic) chemicals can alter the expression of genes, thus initiating cancers and/or affecting their propagation. This information could indicate which classes of chemicals are most carcinogenic and should be banned; it could also provide clues to the creation of highly specific anti cancer drugs. More basic research is required in order to understand how foreign chemicals disrupt the hormone system and suppress the immune system, and such research is active in several universities.
Lab-on-a-chip technologies, developed for genetics research, will almost certainly be adapted to screening tests for the rapid estimation of hazards from new and existing chemicals. This could take several years because any such new tests will have to be calibrated and certified with long-term animal tests.
There is presently no lack of analytical sensitivity; most chemicals can be detected in body fluids or fruits and vegetables at part-per-trillion levels. Currently these tests are expensive and only large organizations such as federal agencies can routinely afford them. There is a need for inexpensive tests that family physicians can prescribe to learn the extent to which a patient is contaminated with one or several known toxic chemicals. Judging by past developments, new lost-cost tests are likely to become available to medical test laboratories.
Yes, there is hope for an environment and people less polluted by toxic chemicals. There is hope for less debilitating illnesses and diseases. You can help make this possibility a reality by working with and financially supporting nonprofit organizations which are working for a healthy planet. For a partial list, see Blogroll on the lower right-hand side of this site. You can also take political action by sending email alerts prepared by nonprofits. It’s easy. Officials in Washington need to hear from people concerned about hazards to their health.