What do you do when your family is threatened by toxic chemicals lurking in consumer products? In response to calls from parents across the country, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently decided to ban the hormone-disrupting chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups.
Even as we celebrate this small victory, we need to look at the root of the problem: companies aren’t required to prove that the chemicals they put in consumer products are safe before they can go on the market and into our homes and lives. So while the FDA decision is a good first step, it hardly solves the problem. The agency’s ruling does not even apply to the use of BPA in other containers, including those holding baby formula.
As rates of childhood cancer, autism, learning disabilities and chronic diseases continue to rise, families seem to be the subjects of a dangerous experiment, exposing children and adults to constant doses of untested chemicals. Sadly, I believe that we are seeing the results everywhere around us. My neighbor, an active triathlete with two young children, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor one month ago. How many similar stories are a part of your lives?
Clearly, our current piecemeal approach to chemical regulation isn’t enough to keep us safe from even one dangerous chemical, let alone the many other chemicals that families come into contact with every day. Consumers know very little about the safety of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently on the market.
Fortunately, we have a historic opportunity to change that. The Safe Chemicals Act recently was approved by the U.S. Senate’s Environment & Public Works Committee and is headed to the full Senate for a vote. This is the first time Congress has revisited chemical regulation in 36 years. The act would require health and safety information of chemicals before they go into the market and into our money, kids’ toys and building materials.
My 6-year-old son and I traveled to Washington in May as part of the National “Stroller Brigade” for Safer Chemicals, representing MomsRising and our more than 28,000 North Carolina members. I’m not a professional lobbyist, and it wasn’t easy for me to take the time away from work and the rest of my family to make this trip.
However, because I (along with the vast majority of parents) will do anything within my power to protect my children’s health, I decided to join hundreds of other concerned moms, children, nurses, miners and others to deliver an important message to our nation’s senators. I, my son and several other North Carolinians met with Sen. Kay Hagan and with staff from Sen. Richard Burr’s office to let them know North Carolinians support the Safe Chemicals Act.
As parents, our voices do matter. I watched with great pride recently as North Carolina’s congressional delegation came together to fight for justice for the Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune, who suffered serious health effects, including cancer, after being exposed to contaminated water on base. And I join with many others in celebrating the father, retired Marine Jerry Ensminger, who led that effort in memory of his daughter, Janey, who died of leukemia at age 9 after drinking the contaminated water.
While we’re doing right by these families now, I know we all wish the exposure could have been avoided in the first place.
We have the opportunity to prevent other toxic chemical exposures currently happening to children and adults all over our state and our nation. As this legislation moves to the Senate floor, I hope Hagan and Burr will co-sponsor the bill to show their strong support. And when it comes to a vote, I hope they’ll continue their efforts to stand up for North Carolina families and help us protect our children from toxic chemicals.
Even my 6-year-old understands what is at stake here; when he met with Hagan, he simply said to her, “Please get toxic chemicals out of my toys.” Our families deserve no less.
Jessica Nakell Burroughs is a Durham mother of two and member of MomsRising.org.