Learn More About Toxic Chemicals

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The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Learn More About Toxic Chemicals

Allyson Schrier

Mother's Day is a time to celebrate moms and honor the life, joy and protection they bring families and society. As a mother of two boys, it is the role of protector that I find most difficult to manage.

Some things are obvious: Srap children into car seats, put latches on cabinets and teach kids to look both ways when crossing the street. Where I run into trouble is in knowing how to keep my kids safe from hidden threats relatively new to our society -- things my mother never thought about. How do I keep my kids safe from chemicals in food, children's products and personal care products?

I buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever I can because I'm concerned about pesticides. We rarely eat tuna because of mercury concerns. I recently learned that the butter flavor on microwave popcorn uses chemicals that cause debilitating sickness in workers in popcorn factories. We've switched to air-popped popcorn for our family movie night.

Given our penchant for protection, what mother would knowingly slather her newborn with a known carcinogen? Or use makeup that contains a reproductive toxin that could be passed on through breast milk to her growing baby?

Few mothers realize that is happening unknowingly right now, in homes across America. Major loopholes in federal law prevent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other government agency from approving the safety of cosmetics and personal-care products, such as bubble bath, before they are brought to market. The result is that many products on store shelves contain chemicals linked to a variety of health effects, including those that can cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm.

Washington state has been a national leader in fighting for protections from toxic chemicals in products. The Legislature just passed a groundbreaking bill to phase out polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (PBDEs) that have been found in our children's mattresses, our homes' dust, breastmilk and in salmon and orcas. We are well under way in reducing mercury through a statewide effort.

What about other chemicals? Bisphenol A is linked to breast cancer and reproductive health problems. What about Bisphenol A in babies' bottles, teenagers' water bottles and in the lining of soda cans? What about phthalates in teething toys? Phthalates, used to soften plastics, are reproductive toxins.

Why should mothers have to worry about the myriad chemicals in all the day-to-day products we purchase? Many moms I know exhibit a superhuman ability to keep the family ship afloat in today's modern world, but there are some things we cannot do alone.

How? The market needs to clean up its act but we need strong regulation as well. We cannot rely on voluntary phase-outs of chemicals that could harm us or our natural world.

This Mother's Day, do something besides worry. Educate yourself about simple, everyday things you can do to reduce your family's exposure to toxic chemicals by visiting the Washington Toxics Coalition (watoxics.org) and Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition (toxicfreelegacy.org).

The gift of a healthy future for her children is all a mother could ask for.

Allyson Schrier is a Fall City children's author and mom who participated in the Pollution in People Study and found she had elevated levels of toxic chemicals in her body.

© 2007 The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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