Silicone makes our lives safer, easier, healthier, and more enjoyable. It plays a role in products as diverse as facial creams, airbags, caulk, medical devices and smartphones. If silicone were to disappear tomorrow, we would lead much different lives. There is an attempt underway to ban silicone products without providing evidence that these products are harmful to humans or the environment.
When it comes to government oversight of silicone production and manufacturing, different countries have adopted widely divergent philosophies. One approach, used by Canada and Australia, relies on science-based evidence to measure potential risks to the environment and human health. The other approach, used by European Union, fails to adequately consider all available evidence and uses the mere possibility of harm — no matter how remote — to impose restrictions on the use of silicones.
As a result of its flawed regulatory approach, the European Union has already taken steps to crack down on certain silicone products, which could lead to an effort to establish a global, E.U.-style regulatory regime on silicone through the Stockholm Convention. Other countries, including the United States, should learn from the E.U.’s mistakes and resist excessive regulation of these consumer products.
Tight government control of the silicone industry, particularly when motivated by inaccurate and unrealistic risk assessments, causes real damage to employment and economic output.
Consider the silicone industry in the United States, for example.
The United States is one of the largest producers of silicone in the world, accounting for 412,000 metric tons and $2.25 billion in annual sales revenue. The industry directly employs approximately 10,000 American workers.
But although these figures are significant, they don’t do justice to silicone’s true economic impact. Research has found that nearly $9 billion in annual downstream added value is created by silicone sales in the U.S., showing that numerous sectors of our economy rely on silicone to thrive.
A comprehensive study of the silicone industry estimated that the number of employees in the total downstream silicone supply chain are 170 times the number employed by silicone product manufacturers. In other words, silicone’s ripple effects in the U.S. economy support some 1.7 million workers!
To see why, consider that the silicone products manufactured by the 10,000 employees are sold to tens of thousands of different companies — spread across hundreds of different industries — who carry out further processing, formulation, or integration of silicone components into final products. Given silicone’s ubiquitous presence in thousands of industrial and consumer goods, the silicone industry’s economic effects reach far beyond merely silicone manufacturers.
The semiconductor industry, for example, extensively uses silicone products to enhance the performance, durability, and reliability of electronic devices. Semiconductor manufacturers directly employ nearly 250,000 workers in the U.S. and support (through indirect and induced effects) more than one million American jobs.
Similarly, the personal care sector (skin and hair care, cosmetics, fragrances, etc.) uses silicone to increase shelf-life, reduce bacterial growth, and enhance water resistance. This sector supports 2.8 million jobs in the U.S., constituting 1.6 percent of our entire workforce.
The semiconductor and personal care industries are just two of the hundreds of American industries that use silicone.
Nor is the silicone industry showing any signs of contracting. Worldwide silicone consumption is projected to increase 5.1 percent annually through 2021, when it will reach $18.3 billion.
Harsher, E.U.-style regulations that lack scientific support would be sure to cause needless economic harm to the many industries in the U.S. that depend on silicone and the consumers that rely on these products every day.