As moms, we all want to protect our children from harm. But what if that harm is invisible, occurs daily, and is almost impossible to stop without government intervention?
There’s a growing consensus that our exposure to toxic chemicals in consumer products is a risk factor for many serious diseases. Children are exposed to these chemicals at an alarming rate and as a result, there are long-term implications for their health and development.
One particular class of chemicals, called endocrine disruptors, has been linked to increased rates of breast cancer, early onset of puberty and rising rates of endometriosis - a leading cause of female infertility. In fact, a large body of research indicates a link between increased infertility rates in women and toxic chemical exposure. According to a report by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, at least 12% of women reported difficulty in conceiving and maintaining pregnancy in 2002, an increase of 40% from 1982. The rate has almost doubled in younger women, ages 18–25. I’m sure each of us knows at least one woman who is struggling or has struggled with getting pregnant.
Scientists on the cutting edge of research have found that chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), perfluorinated compounds, and cadmium are linked to these increases in reproductive health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we all have some levels of these chemicals in our bodies.
Mothers-to-be and breastfeeding mothers are particularly vulnerable to toxic chemical exposure. Women’s bodies are the first environment for the next generation. Unfortunately, many chemicals that are stored in a woman’s body can be passed onto her child while in utero and later during breastfeeding (many toxic chemicals pass through the placenta and have been found in breast milk). In fact, an alarming study by the Environmental Working Group found that at least 287 hazardous industrial chemicals pass through the placenta to the fetus.
What’s even more startling, according to Women’s Voices for the Earth, is that many chemicals are so prevalent in breast milk that if it were to be bottled for sale, most breast milk would not pass FDA regulations. While breastfeeding is clearly still the number one option for building a new baby’s immune system, the abundance of toxic chemicals in breast milk is cause for serious alarm.
Women are the primary consumer decision-makers in 85% of households in the United States which means we are the ones most likely to purchase products such as toys, diapers, sunscreen, bath products and more. Parents deserve the ability to feel confident that the products they buy are safe for their families, and many of us just assume that if we can purchase it in a store, it must be OK.
Currently, it is nearly impossible to identify the presence of carcinogens, reproductive or developmental toxins on a product’s label because companies are not required to list them. So, even if women are armed with knowledge about the potential presence of toxic chemicals, there is virtually no way for them to make informed decisions about the products they buy.
The Connecticut legislature is leading the way by introducing a bill on this very topic, Senate Bill 274, An Act Concerning Chemicals of High Concern to Children. As parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our children are protected from harm and Connecticut should be applauded for making the health of our children a priority.
Michelle Noehren is the Events & Special Projects Manager at the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and is the founder of www.ctworkingmoms.com, an online community for moms juggling work & family.