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Stronger Summertime Safeguards Are Needed

Public Citizen News / July-August 2019

By Ian Weiner

This article appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

At least 12 ingredients in sunscreens need more testing because their safety is suspect. Toxic algae blooms created by excess nutrients have brought widespread sickness. And exposure to heat is killing workers.

These are just a few reasons stronger safeguards are needed to keep summer – everyone’s favorite time of year – safe, healthy, affordable and fun.

That’s the message of a recent report from the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, an alliance of more than 160 public interest organizations co-chaired by Public Citizen that is committed to defending our system of public protections.

“Safeguarding Summer” explores 10 worker, health, safety and transportation safeguards needed to keep summertime safe for workers, consumers and families. The report examines airplane, car and duck boat safety, corporate consolidation in the online travel agency industry, the effects of excess nutrients in runoff on water quality, the questionable safety of sunscreens, flaws in the inspection system of pork, the effect of net neutrality repeal on firefighters, the danger extreme heat poses to workers, the dangers of hot cars to children and animals and the effect of overtime pay cap on families.

“Summer is supposed to be when we take time off from work to spend time with family and friends, enjoy picnics, barbeques and cookouts, lay out by the pool, head to the beach, take road trips across the country or fly to far-flung places,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

“But what happens if you’ve been deprived of the wages needed to take time off or travel, if road trips, flights and tour boats are dangerous, if it’s way too hot to work or play outside, and if there’s a good chance the food and water may be hazardous to your health? Suddenly, summertime looks less like a dreamy vacation and more like a scorching hot nightmare.”

This report highlighted safeguards we need. Among them:

  • Stronger sunscreen safety standards. Many sunscreens are labeled with a misleadingly high sunburn protection factor, pose inhalation risks, make misleading claims that they prevent skin cancer and contain a chemical that might speed the development of skin tumors. In addition to hazards to consumers, coral bleaching and coral death can be caused by chemicals inside the bottle marketed as protection from the ultraviolet rays. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed tighter regulations that include new labeling requirements, assessments of toxicity and absorbency and stronger requirements for UVA protections. But these are a long way from being finalized.
  • Stronger clean water rules. Excessive nutrients from sewage treatment plants, coal plants and over-fertilized golf courses and lawns threaten drinking water and harm wildlife, resulting in algae blooms that can cause widespread sickness. In addition, the pollutants decompose and consume all the available surrounding oxygen, killing everything in the ecosystem. One notorious example was the toxic algae bloom that left 400,000 northwest Ohioans without clean drinking water in 2014.
  • Federal protections from heat for workers. Heat-related injuries illnesses and deaths, and the standards set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, show that excessive heat exposure can result in nausea, dehydration and heat exhaustion, which can in turn quickly result in heat stroke and death.

“I don’t want any more families to go through the pain that my family went through, said Raudel Felix Garcia, a California resident who lost his brother to extreme heat, during last year’s launch of a national campaign launch for heat protections, an effort spearheaded by Public Citizen. “A decade after my brother’s death, workers continue losing their lives from heat illness. I am here to demand safe working conditions for the ones who lift up this country with all the hard work they do.”

The full report can be found at SensibleSafeguards.org/summer.