Skittles and toxic chemicals

charles-zhouBefore you draw any conclusions based on the title, no, there isn’t anything that harmful in Skittles (unless you consider the fact that eating a pack a day may lead to diabetes).

I really like Skittles. Picking a favorite flavor is almost like picking a favorite child, as the saying goes. I don’t remember much else from kindergarten besides showing up to class on time and being rewarded with Skittles.

Unfortunately, Wrigley (the gum company that makes Skittles) decided to change green Skittles from lime to green apple last year. I just bought Skittles for the first time since the change and I’m not impressed.

Now, put yourself in my shoes and pretend you really don’t like apple-flavored candy. Imagine buying three packs of Skittles from the supermarket checkout lane, opening them up, and seeing all green apple Skittles (or whatever flavor you like the least) except for one. You would be mortified and probably writing the Wrigley Company or calling their customer service line.

The scary thing is that a situation like this exists in the United States, and it’s a lot worse than 3 bags of green apple Skittles. Our main toxic chemicals regulation, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, or TSCA (pronounced “tosca” like the opera), is extremely weak and in most cases, simply ignored. Out of the approximately 85,000 chemicals available on the market and used in the United States, we only have good information on about 500 of them. One in 170. That’s one Skittle you like and would be willing to eat, and 169 green apples.

There is the equivalent of about 9 bags (2.17 oz) of Skittles in this bowl, meaning you can eat 3 of them.

There is the equivalent of about nine 2.17 oz bags of Skittles in this bowl, meaning you can eat 3 of them.

This is not to say that the chemicals we don’t know about are all bad. Chemistry has made the conveniences of modern life possible and society has benefitted immensely from the 85,000 chemicals that it uses. Many are probably harmless, and many employers protect their workers from exposure to potentially dangerous ones. Despite this, it is unsettling to know that there are 84,500 chemicals that we know virtually nothing about with respect to health effects. And while many are harmless, there are also quite a few that are probably pretty nasty and can cause some serious damage. We should appreciate the green apples, at least a little, but by no means should we accept a bowl full of them.

Think about it. We don’t have adequate information on 99.4% of the chemicals we use. If you’d be willing to contact the makers of Skittles about something so egregious, it’s time we started putting pressure on Congress to reform TSCA and demand its enforcement.

And Wrigley, please stop making me buy a special pack of Skittles just for the lime ones.

Also published on my personal blog—you can check it out here.

2 thoughts on “Skittles and toxic chemicals

    • Of course. But that would take a lot of time, effort, and money. Congress is considering a bill right now to revamp chemical safety regulations, but it probably won’t be much stronger than what we have now.

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