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Claire Moshenberg's picture

Last week, I went to the Reproductive Health Technology Project, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals , and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families congressional  briefing on the “Dangers of Chemicals on Reproductive Health.” I was astounded by what I learned at the briefing, and also frightened.

Who knew that infertility is becoming an increasingly common problem for the 30-and-under set? At my age, the biggest reproductive health worry for my friends and I is finding ways not to get pregnant; I never thought I should already be worrying that I won’t be able to get pregnant when I want to. But it turns out that women 15-24 have experienced a 90% increase in infertility between 1982 and 2002. And it’s not just women who are affected: male infertility and decreasing testosterone levels have both become more prevalent. Meanwhile, 6 billion pounds of BPA are produced annually, resulting in 93% of Americans showing measurable BPA in their bodies.

The reproductive health effects of chemicals don’t end with their impact on fertility. If you are able to get pregnant, your infant may be seriously effected by exposure to toxins in pregnancy and in early childhood. Side effects include increased risk of childhood cancer, birth defects, and learning disabilities. Some side effects may not appear until later in life; toxins exposure increases a child’s susceptibility to Parkinsons and other adult diseases.

As Tracy Woodruff, director of the Reproductive Sciences and the Environment program at UC San Francisco, pointed out, we expect to know about drugs before they go to market, why not chemicals? We demand data on the efficacy and safety of pharmaceuticals prior to use, yet manufactured chemicals are not required to provide proof of safety. Speaker Ted Schettler referred to this method of testing as the “body count approach:” By regulating chemicals through a “proof of harm” system, we let the public test chemicals on their own bodies repeatedly until they are experiencing dangerous side effects. At that point we assess the chemical’s risk rather than checking it before its created a public health problem.  And the consequences of this chemical impact on reproductive health should be a serious public health concern. These widespread side effects to infants and children can have a lifelong impact on individuals, families, and communities.

At the briefing, Beth Jordan from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals shared a story from a conference many years ago, when she questioned a leading scientist on the effect of heating plastic food containers. The scientist replied that there was no proof that this was a dangerous practice. But when questioned on whether or not she heated plastic food containers in her own home, she replied “Absolutely not!” This story is a small example of a larger problem: the decades long gaps between scientific discoveries and consequent public health changes. We know, and have known, how harmful BPA is, yet it remains prevalent in our foods, homes, and cosmetics.

The ubiquitous nature of toxins in our day to day lives is terrifying. Though we can, and should, make lifestyle changes and pay attention to the foods we eat and products we buy, toxins are inescapable. The biggest and most effective change we can make is a change in legislation. It’s time for young women to mobilize around this issue, and for Congress to move quickly with this legislation. For more information on what you can do to help, click here.

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