As a mom, I find myself worrying about just about everything. Most of my parenting experience (all two years and four months of it) has been full of wonder, joy, interrupted sleep and sticky fingers. But there are plenty of quiet moments when I find myself thinking about the unthinkable. News reports run through my head and I count worries instead of counting sheep. If you ask any mom, I'm sure she can quickly rattle off a list of fears to you. SIDS, rising rates of autism, accidents, our minds fixate on anything that has the potential to harm these little beings who have such a strong hold on our hearts.
Lately, though, I've been fixated on dangers that are difficult to name. More than 80,000 potential dangers, to be exact. That's the number of chemicals that have been on the market and available for use in the US since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was enacted. The problem is that the act has failed us and very few of those 80,000 chemicals have ever been tested for safety. Bisphenol A (BPA), for example, is a known endocrine disruptor and research has linked BPA exposure to reproductive harm, increased cancer susceptibility and abnormalities in brain development. Yet the US has produced two billion pounds of BPA since 2004. BPA is prevalent in consumer goods, the food industry, even retail receipt paper, and under TSCA, the federal government can do little to regulate it. Every day we are exposed to some level of BPA and we don't yet know the cumulative effects to our health. What sort of health crisis will it take for the government to take notice and protect us from this chemical's harm? Have we not learned from crises past?
There was a time in this country, not that long ago, when lead was actually marketed as a substance that would help "guard your health." Instead it poisoned millions of children, causing irreversible brain damage. Asbestos was advertised as the "miracle metal" until hundreds of thousands of American workers fell ill due to exposure and the National Institute of Health named it a known human carcinogen. There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market right now that are all designed with useful intent, but what we don't know, and what the government is not protecting us from, is the unintended consequences of these chemicals.
I'm proud to work at a company that has been creating healthy products for twenty-five years using bio-based ingredients instead of chemicals of concern. But the truth is, Seventh Generation doesn't make every single product that I need in my home and not every mother has access to our non-toxic products. Yet every single mother deserves to have products that don't put her child's health at risk.
That's why I traveled to Washington, DC with a fellow co-worker and mother to join Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families' Stroller Brigade earlier this month. We met with our Senators and Representatives to express the need for stronger chemical regulation. Surrounded by mothers from across the country, we asked for reform:
- We let Congress know that our children are not guinea pigs for the chemical industry.
- We demanded that chemicals be proven safe, not presumed innocent until an entire generation falls ill from their use.
- We asked that the government prioritize the health of its citizens over the concerns of big business.
- We asked why American manufacturers are formulating different, safer products for the E.U. while they continue to provide us with products laden with chemicals of concern.
- We asked that current proposed legislation, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), be strengthened and passed.
We let them know that we're not going to back down and that we're spreading the word to everyone we know. You can tell your representatives that you want stronger chemical reform today here. While my worries as a mother will never cease, I find that my sense of empowerment grows with every step that I take to keep my children, and the generations that follow, safe from unnecessary harm.
Ashley Orgain, left, is manager of corporate consciousness at Seventh Generation and mom to twenty-two-month-old Walker. Brandi Thomas, right, is public relations manager at Seventh Generation and mom to two-year-old Sam.