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Kristin Schafer's picture

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I truly hope my grandchildren come into the world carrying fewer chemicals than my children did when they were born. My oldest just started high school, so any grandchildren are many years off. But members of Congress are deciding right now what chemicals my daughter will pass along to her children. My vote? As few as possible.

Senators and Representatives are considering a dangerous group of chemicals called “persistent, bioaccumulative toxins,” better known as PBTs. These chemicals can last for years in the environment — and in our bodies. Some travel the globe on swirling currents of wind and water, eventually settling in the polar regions. And many can damage our nervous, reproductive and immune systems at astonishingly low levels.

Most PBTs can pass from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding – and infants and children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals as their bodies develop. These are very scary substances.

PBTs are all around us. From tomatoes doused with the pesticide endosulfan and lice shampoos made with lindane, to computers treated with flame retardants (a group of chemicals known as PBDEs), many many everyday products carry PBTs into our homes and bodies.

Enough is enough. As part of the broader efforts to fix our broken chemical policies, Congress should tell EPA to get chemicals that qualify as PBTs out of products and off the shelves.

Other countries – 169 of them at last count – have already recognized that persistent chemicals that don’t respect national borders are just too dangerous to have on the planet. They’ve adopted the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a global treaty that targets traveling PBTs for worldwide phase-out. The U.S. signed the treaty back in 2001, but hasn’t officially adopted it yet.

Ten years ago, I traveled to Germany to be part of the negotiating sessions where this treaty was being created. I was just back from maternity leave, and was still breastfeeding our son Connor. When I returned from Bonn, I wrote these words:

“It’s quite possible—indeed likely— that Connor has ingested some of the chemical industry’s most dangerous products along with nature’s perfect food for infants. Of course, Connor will be off to kindergarten before any treaty goes into effect, but being a nursing mother brings this policy work down to a very personal level, and reminds me, in a concrete way, that we are working to protect the right of women worldwide to safely bear and breastfeed our children.”

When Connor started kindergarten in 2004, the 50th country adopted the treaty, making it binding international law. Participating countries got to work eliminating the first 12 chemicals on the list (including dioxins, PCBs, DDT and seven other pesticides). In May of last year, the list of chemicals targeted for global phaseout expanded to 21.

Congress needs to know we want action now on PBTs here in the U.S. Today's version of being "better off" than your parents? Being less contaminated with toxic chemicals. It's the least we can do for future generations.


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