In his State of the Union on Tuesday, President Obama called for new incentives to encourage innovation: “After all, innovation is what America has always been about.” Investing in new forms of energy production is the key, he declared, because “nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.” Natural gas, for example, represents a hundred-year supply of fuel and the potential to create 600,000 new jobs by the end of the decade. Yet, processing and production can be risky, so the Obama Administration will require that all companies drilling for gas on public lands disclose the chemicals used in the process. “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
The new policy is an inspired move, both environmentally and economically, and encouraging more transparency is an appropriate role for government to protect public health and safety. But why limit the policy to natural gas? There is an urgent need to ensure that industrial manufacturing and production don’t harm workers or the communities where they occur, but there’s an equally urgent need to protect health and safety closer to home.
As Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie point out in the irresistibly titled, Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things, factories and processing plants don’t necessarily represent the biggest threats: “Pollution is no longer just about belching smokestacks and ugly sewer pipes—now, it’s personal. The most dangerous pollution, it turns out, comes from commonplace items in our homes and workplaces.” The everyday products that fill our lives—from toys to TVs to T-shirts—often contain or create harmful substances, and in many cases consumers aren’t aware of this, because the products don’t disclose what they contain.
Greater innovation and transparency are imperative to every form of production. Why shouldn’t all products made or sold in America fully disclose the chemicals they contain?