A Cleaner, Greener Planet

Earth Day never used to be a day when
reproductive health organizations were particularly busy. But on this
April 22nd, 2009, things are looking very different.  

Reproductive health, rights and justice
organizations across the country are doing extraordinary things to improve
the health and lives of women and men by fighting for a greener, cleaner
planet.  Consider the following: 

  • The California Healthy Nail
    Salon Collaborative is sponsoring a research meeting in Oakland, California
    to improve the health and safety of salon workers exposed to chemicals
    that may harm their reproductive health and fertility. 
  • In the Pajaro Valley of California,
    Planned Parenthood of Mar Monte is organizing a community-based collaborative
    for farm workers and their families who are exposed to pesticides that
    may be contributing to high rates of miscarriage, infertility and early
  • The Reproductive Health Technologies
    Project (RHTP), the D.C.-based organization where we work, is advocating
    for passage of the Kid Safe Chemicals Act
    – the first real effort to regulate chemicals in the U.S. in more
    than 30 years.
  • Planned Parenthood of Northern
    New England recently launched a new website and is hosting a myriad of green events (Where
    is my Recycled Prom Dress?…)

It may seem surprising that reproductive
health and justice organizations are spending time and resources on
these "environmental" issues.  But with evidence mounting that
chemicals in our everyday environment – from the food we eat, to cleaners
we use – are having an impact on our reproductive health, such efforts
are vital.  As pro-choice individuals and organizations who believe
in enabling people to decide when the time is right (and when it is
not) to have children, these environmental efforts are not just nice
"add-ons" but a fundamental part of our mission.  

Take nail polish, for example, which
typically contains dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, and formaldehyde.
All of these chemicals are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals —
chemicals that interfere with some aspect of our endocrine system, the
system that controls our metabolism and reproduction. These chemicals
can exert their effects by mimicking hormones, preventing harmful substances
from leaving the body, and tricking the body into ignoring its natural
protective signals. It is no surprise, then, that a chemical like toluene
has been linked to reduced fertility, miscarriages and menstrual irregularities.
Then consider the salon workers and owners who often spend 10 plus hours
a day in close proximity to such chemicals. The cumulative effect of
exposure to these chemicals at work and at home on these women, their
families and their community can be devastating.  It is ironic
that some of the very things we use to express and celebrate our femininity
are actually compromising what makes us biologically female.  

Although the facts are clear, taking
up the call for a greener, cleaner planet isn’t always easy or straightforward. 
Take Gretchen Raffa, the Community Organizer for Planned Parenthood
of Connecticut.  She realized the potential impact of toxicants
on the clients at Planned Parenthood so when the Coalition for a Safe
and Healthy Connecticut approached Planned Parenthood to join the coalition,
she agreed.  She even agreed to testify in favor of a bill banning
Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has been linked to reproductive health
problems including harm to a pregnant woman and her developing fetus. 

Likewise, when Asian Communities for
Reproductive Justice started digesting the work that they had been doing
with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and their POLISH initiative, they decided to take their advocacy
a step further and broaden the lens.  They have just finished a
thought provoking report on climate change and reproductive justice,
focusing on the mid-sized industries such as the nail salon industry,
where women of color and immigrant women tend to be employed. They realized
that cleaning up the nail salons was important but so was the larger
community where these industries sit.  The report builds the case for how climate justice solutions cannot succeed without advancing worker health and safety and reproductive justice. (The report will be available by May 15 – email info@reproductivejustice.org for more information.)

Similarly at RHTP,
we have been following the impact of chemicals on reproductive health
for several years.  We initially looked at these issues from a
bird’s eye view – tracking policy developments and trying to wrap
our heads around the science.  So how did the Kid Safe Chemicals
become one of our highest organizational priorities?  Like
Gretchen, like ACRJ, we have taken a somewhat winding path.  We
realized that we couldn’t approach this issue with a chemical by chemical
ban – nor could we or should we put the onus on people – usually
women – to buy products free of harmful chemicals.  We need a
paradigm shift in how we regulate chemicals in this country – and
the Kid Safe Chemicals Act is a critical leap in the right direction. 

So on this Earth Day we celebrate and
applaud the amazing work of reproductive health and justice organizations
who are working for a greener, cleaner planet.  

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  • invalid-0

    Obviously protecting children and employees from the harmful effects of chemicals is a worthwhile endevor and I applaude these efforts. But any discussion on environmentalism needs to consider what happens when chemicals that do have valid uses are banned. I remember hearing at school as a child how wonderful it was that banning DDT was bringing back the baby birds. Unfortunately, mainstream environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace became ecoterrorists when they encouraged the U.N. to apply the same rules to third world nations who had not already enjoyed the benefits of using DDT to fight malaria, as we had. Some thirty million people died in Africa alone because they were not allowed to use a chemical we knew could have eliminated malaria; all in the name of baby birds. Was DDT necessary to use as a pestacide in the U.S? No. Was DDT needed in the third world’s struggle against malaria? Absolutely and the self rightous ecoterrorists who withheld the only effective weapon against malaria have blood on their hands.

  • invalid-0

    cmarie, DDT was banned for agricultural use, which is where most of the environmental damage came from. DDT was not and is not prohibited from spot use in homes, where it is beneficial in areas affected by malaria.

    There is a large movement online to condemn the DDT ban, and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring for bringing that about, but there really is nothing to get up in arms about. DDT is used where it is a net positive, and banned where it is a net negative.

  • invalid-0

    Once again, instigators troll the blogosphere and try to change and divert the subject! The poster’s comment, as the reply makes clear, is inaccurate. And calling environmentalists who oppose agricultural use of DDT “ecoterrorists” is downright slander. As well, there are several ways to fight malaria without DDT, to which mosquitoes are building up a resistance anyway. Oh and by the way, DDT greatly increases the risk of breast cancer, wherever you live.

  • invalid-0

    Wow this is scary to think there’s still a place where Carson’s legacy is being debated. It’s almost like people who still think the earth is flat. For anyone who’s interested here’s a good link: http://www.fightingmalaria.org just search “rachel carson” and a series of excellent articles come up. For people who are not interested in this, nothing I or anyone else says will make a difference to you. Also the post immediately after mine seems to be saying that TODAY DDT can be used on a needed basis where necessary. That is actually true. I think it was 2005 when the W.H.O finally admitted that they couldn’t justify continuing to withhold DDT and lifted the bans. Obviously, the damage was done during the years when urgently needed economic aid was withheld from African nations who took full advantage of DDT in the battle against malaria.

  • invalid-0

    I can’t help but think how much farther we are on environmental issues than on sexual and reproductive health issues. True, in 1970, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness and abortion was only legal in New York. But the most dramatic changes on those issues happened before I graduated from college — and it seems like we have faced one battle after another for the past twenty five years.

    My growing sense though is that there is a new societal consensus emerging — and one can only hope and pray that in the next ten years, sexuality education will finally be commonplace, abortion rights will be secured, family planning services will be available as part of health care reform to all, and marriage equality will be secured, at least in many more states.

    Rev. Debra Haffner

  • invalid-0

    “Unfortunately, mainstream environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace became ecoterrorists when they encouraged the U.N. to apply the same rules to third world nations who had not already enjoyed the benefits of using DDT to fight malaria, as we had. Some thirty million people died in Africa alone because they were not allowed to use a chemical we knew could have eliminated malaria; all in the name of baby birds.”


    I’m pleased to see a conservative taking an interest in malaria eradication and the unnecessary deaths of children anywhere in the world.
    Here is a link to a great deal of factual information about malaria and DDT:
    It’s full of footnotes and cites backing up the point that DDT and particularly large scale agricultural use of DDT is harmful to both the environment in many different ways and humans, not just ‘baby birds’. Likewise, after a relatively short time mosquitoes evolve a resistance to DDT.
    “Ecoterrorist” Bill Gates has devoted a great deal of time and money to the eradication of malaria. Here’s a link to this years update on the progress of the Gates Foundation in this effort.

  • anna-clark

    Michelle Goldberg’s new book, "The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World," dovetails perfectly with this intersection of women’s equality and environmental "population bomb" concerns.

    An absolutely absorbing book. Check it out: http://www.meansofreproduction.com

  • invalid-0


  • http://www.ncrw.org invalid-0

    There are many levels on which women’s organizations and environmental movements can find common ground. Such collaborations as well as other strategies for women’s advancement will be key themes explored at our annual conference June 10-12 at cUNY Graduate Center, NYC. Register today at http://www.ncrw.org – don’t miss out!

  • http://harunyorur.com invalid-0

    very interesting topic, alot can be said…

  • http://bravobride.com invalid-0

    Great info, very interesting. Rgds. BravoBride. http://bravobride.com/

  • http://www.philipjamessalon.com/ invalid-0

    I think limiting your exposure to chemicals indoors will only benefit you and your families health. Indoor air pollution is something most people overlook, but can drastically impact their health at home.