Skip to main content
Claire Moshenberg's picture

In Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things, a new book by Environmentalists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, there’s a scene where Smith, caught in the middle of a chaotic two-kid-household bedtime routine, is stopped in his tracks by the discovery of flame retardants in his sons’ new pajamas. It was a familiar scene with heavy implications, one that made me think of a similarly fraught pajama story from my own childhood:

I was eight years old, standing with my arms spread out, as my mom tailored one of my dad’s old flannel shirts into a nightgown. My new checkered nightie, the missing piece in an overnight bag for an upcoming sleepover, was 100% cotton and flame retardant free. But the lack of chemicals wasn’t the reason I was wearing a repurposed version of my dad’s shirt. I was wearing his shirt because there was no money for new pajamas.

Money was tight, and over the years there were a lot of things we couldn’t afford. When I think of my mom at that time, sitting on the couch with a calculator, a pile of bills, and a worried face, I wonder what she would have thought if someone had told her to go into our shower and throw almost everything away. If someone had said that we had to ransack our cupboards, toss out our canned soups and plastic tupperwares, and then replace our furniture, our toys, even our clothes, or my sister and I would be at risk for cancer, infertility, and learning disabilities.

I know what she would have thought: How did these toxins get into our home? And how could we possibly afford to replace all of things they'd tainted? I know not being able to protect her children would have broken her heart.

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families just released a new report, “The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act.” As I read it, I thought of my mom at that age, and the family she worked so hard every day to keep healthy and safe. I know I would never want her or any other mother to feel powerless when it comes to protecting their kids. We need to protect all of our children and take the toxins out of the goods we use every day. And to do this, we need TSCA reform

In the 34 years since TSCA was enacted, the EPA has only been able to require testing on 200 of the over 80,000 chemicals produced and used in the US, and only 5 of these chemicals have been regulated under the law.(1) The new report from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families shows how exposure to toxins has drastically increased rates of chronic disease. And chronic illnesses are not only costing us our health, but our also putting a tremendous financial strain on our economy and on our families. Through making some basic changes to this almost 40 year old legislation, we could reduce our health costs from toxic exposures by 10%, saving the US $5 billion annually.

Here are just a few of the frightening health effects from toxins that the report outlines:

-Cancer is now the second most common cause of death for Americans under the age of 20, with childhood leukemia and brain cancer rates rising significantly over the past two decades.Bisphenol A, a chemical found in a wide variety of consumer goods including certain formula tins and baby bottles, has recently been shown to cause normal breast tissue to express genes associated with a highly aggressive, and often fatal, form of breast cancer.

-One in six children under the age of eighteen in the US are effected by learning and developmental disabilities. Autism has increased ten fold over the past fifteen years. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), featured in a variety of plastic goods, is known to cause neurodevelopmental disorders.

-Fertility problems are on the rise: The infertility rate for women 18-25 has doubled and sperm counts for men in the U.S., Europe, and Australia are declining. Studies have shown that exposure to the BPA found in polycarbonate plastic and food linings can lead to permanent reproductive changes and an increase in future reproductive health problems.

We can change the foods we eat, the products we buy, the pajamas we purchase, but it’s not enough. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to make those lifestyle changes, chemicals are so ubiquitous that you and your children will still encounter them at your schools, workplaces, at their friends homes: the list goes on. But there is one big change we all can make: we can work together to reform TSCA. To learn more about the important work Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is doing around this issue and to check out their new report, visit You can also click here to send a letter to Congress urging action on TSCA reform!

(1) "The Health Case for Reforming TSCA," Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of strongly encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We value diversity of opinions and perspectives. Our goals for this space are to be educational, thought-provoking, and respectful. So we actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that undermine these goals. Thanks!