The hundreds of thousands of chemicals that are packed into our homes and lives are what make modern consumerism possible, keeping our food fresh and our walls from molding. They are also, in many cases, completely untested and backed by giant corporations with a financial stake in their successful adoption.

The latest episode of Retro Report is online at The New York Times today, and it deals with the unregulated business of chemicals in the US.

Advertisement

We’re introduced first to TRIS, a flame-retardant that was routinely added to kids’ PJs in the 1970s after the Federal government mandated it. Over time, evidence emerged that TRIS was a mutagen—it altered the DNA of bacteria—and that it had clear negative effects on IQ and learning abilities. Tests even showed that it didn’t actually do much to slow flames at all. And yet TRIS has remained in our lives in multiple forms, partially thanks to the intense lobbying efforts of the companies that make it.

But TRIS is just one example of a chemical that became ubiquitous in our lives without even the bare minimum of testing. And there are tens of thousands of others just like it. This is hardly news, but it’s astounding that there’s no threshold for introducing a new chemical into a consumer product. And it’s even more astounding that most of us don’t even realize it.

[Retro Report]