A Mother’s Day Wish for a Non-Toxic World


In celebration of Mother’s Day, May 9th, 2010, RH Reality Check is publishing a series of articles on the intersection of motherhood with reproductive and sexual justice.

There’s just one thing I want for Mother’s Day.  But my three fabulous kids can’t give it to me, neither can my wonderful husband. The one thing I want, only Congress and the President can give me: peace of mind.

While I might be loath to admit it sometimes, I am just your average suburban mom– three kids, minivan, and membership to Costco. I pay attention to what my kids eat, look out for good books for them to read, and worry about how to keep them safe on the internet. But let’s be honest, I am not perfect.

Four years ago, when I started noticing that my seven year old was developing breasts, I learned everything I could about early puberty. While the causes of early puberty are varied (obesity, premature birth and low birth weight, psychosocial stressors, and formula feeding), one potential contributing factor caught my eye – exposure to toxic chemicals in our environment and everyday products.

When I looked into toxic chemical exposure more deeply, I was deeply disturbed – incredulous, in fact – to learn that most of the 80,000 chemicals on the market today haven’t been tested for safety. Of the chemicals that have been studied, several have been linked to reproductive health problems, including early puberty, and also infertility, cancer, and low sperm counts. Perhaps most infuriating, the EPA’s hands are tied by a dysfunctional system that prevents them from regulating even the worst chemicals.

When I learned what we were up against, I did what I could to protect my family. I changed our personal care products, our kitchen utensils, our water bottles, and our bedding. I got rid of most of our plastic. I started reading labels, and learning the names of complex chemicals and acronyms such as BPA, phthalates (just try to pronounce that one!), and PBDEs. Anything that I knew was bad, I tried to avoid.

But what about all of the other things I don’t know about or the things I can’t control like the water pipes to my house, the products my kids use at school, the equipment at the playground?

I know I can’t do this alone, and I shouldn’t have to. That’s why I was so excited when a few weeks ago, we got closer to my longed-for peace of mind. Congress introduced legislation to reform and update national chemical policy.

The new legislation (called the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010) would:

  • require chemical manufacturers to provide basic health and safety information for new and existing chemicals;
  • promote safer, greener alternatives;
  • shift the burden of proof for chemical safety from the American people (me and you!) to the chemical manufacturers (where it belongs!); and
  • protect susceptible populations like communities of color, pregnant women, and children.

Unfortunately, the legislation has some weaknesses that could threaten the integrity of the whole system including:

  • a loophole for new chemicals that could be used as an “easy on-ramp” to allow new chemicals onto the market untested; and
  • no requirement that the EPA use the best and latest science to determine the health and safety of chemicals.

The legislation is not perfect, but it’s an important start. And while it won’t be passed in time for Mother’s Day brunch on Sunday, I am hopeful that it will lead to meaningful reform on toxic chemicals – and soon.  As a mother, I want my government to keep up on the scientific research and take dangerous chemicals off the market—rather than leaving it up to me to avoid them.  On this Mother’s Day, I want Congress to get serious about chemical policy reform. That isn’t too much to ask, is it?

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