February 6, 2010

The chemicals within us

Print More

JenniferSitting before a Senate subcommittee is a young mother. She is slim, pretty, intelligent . . . and full of dangerous chemicals.

Molly Jones Gray of Seattle testified this week in Washington, D.C., regarding human exposure to toxic chemicals.  After participating in a study conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition, a pregnant Gray was horrified to learn that her body contained a variety of dangerous chemicals. Gray said she was testifying not only on her own behalf, but also for her 7-month-old son Paxton. She told the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health:

On behalf of my son Paxton and all other children, I am asking for your help to lower our body burdens of chemicals that come between us and our health.

The Toxics Coalition conducted a study testing nine pregnant women from Washington, Oregon, and California for five groups of chemicals: phthalates, mercury, so-called “Teflon” chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A, and the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A.

The study, entitled Earliest Exposures, examined the blood and urine of the nine women in their second trimester. All nine women’s bodies were contaminated with at least a few of the dangerous chemicals.

Many of the women were shocked and left feeling powerless that they couldn’t protect their children at the earliest stages of their growth.

Before bearing her son, Gray had suffered through multiple miscarriages. Recognizing a connection between fertility and chemical exposure, she made a commitment to eat organic produce, avoid certain cleaning products, and eliminate the use of plastic containers. Once pregnant, Gray took additional dietary measures to maintain her and her baby’s health. She glugged down prenatal vitamins. She avoided mercury-ridden fish. Devout in her commitment to health, she was thoroughly disheartened by the study’s results:

I was shocked that my levels were as high as they were. I learned that this fight to avoid toxins is larger than one person alone!

These chemicals are everywhere. For example, 90 percent of Americans have bisphenol A in their systems. Many people have no idea how often they are exposed to these chemicals or the health effects. But then again, neither do government agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The issue is a basic lack of research.

The EPA is authorized under the Toxics Substances Control Act to monitor and regulate dangerous chemicals that could pose health risks. In order for the EPA to regulate these chemicals, the agency must be able to cite data on the health effects.

Yet agency officials cited numerous problems with the current regulatory system. For example, out of the 80,000 chemicals potentially regulated under the toxic-substances law, only 212 are being studied. And, said Steve Owens, an EPA assistant administrator:

Of the roughly 84,000 chemicals included on the TSCA inventory, the identity of more than 16,000 of these chemicals is currently classified as confidential. That makes no sense.

Without a more detailed look at how people are being exposed to these chemicals, EPA is unable to act to control them.

Committee chairman and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, recounted his father’s life as a mill worker. He said his father’s exposure to chemicals contributed to his death at 43. Lautenberg urged fellow lawmakers to take steps to reduce the chemical burden carried by Americans and to protect the next generation. Said Lautenberg:

Our children should not be used as guinea pigs. So it’s time to update the law and protect them.

— Jennifer Privette

One thought on “The chemicals within us

  1. Thanks Jennifer, for posting something about keeping our kids safe. I think making industrial chemicals safe for infants and children is something we can all get behind. To ensure that we really fix this problem we must include modern science language, which necessarily utilizes non-animal methods, in this bill; otherwise we’ll have another outdated bill on our hands.

    Currently, many toxicity tests are based on experiments in animals and use methods that were developed as long ago as the 1930’s; they and are slow, inaccurate, open to uncertainty and manipulation, and do not adequately protect human health. These tests take anywhere from months to years, and tens of thousands to millions of dollars to perform. More importantly, the current testing paradigm has a poor record in predicting effects in humans and an even poorer record in leading to actual regulation of dangerous chemicals.

    Alternatives to animal testing exist in a powerful way and many scientists advocate them. Chemical reform should not only modernize policy, but modernize the science that supports that policy. Let’s ensure chemicals reform uses all the necessary tools to truly make our children, our environment, and animals safe.