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'Stroller Brigade': Mothers, Cancer Survivors Champion 'Safe Chemicals Act'

Common Dreams staff

Moms, cancer survivors, highlight science showing early origins of disease from toxic chemicals. (Photo by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.)

Hundreds of mothers, fathers, and their children joined nurses and cancer survivors in Washington on Tuesday to demand action on the destructive prevalence of toxic chemicals in the environment. The group marched -- most of them pushing child strollers --  to support of Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) Safe Chemicals Act, a bill to overhaul antiquated laws governing toxic chemicals.

“If there is one overwhelming message from years of science, it’s that exposure to toxic chemicals early in our lives is responsible for some of the cancer, infertility and other health problems that affect millions of Americans,” said Andy Igrejas of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, the non-profit advocacy group that spearheaded the event.

“Congress has been paralyzed," on the issue of chemical regulation Igrejas said, and the 'Stroller Brigade' was in the capitol "to break the gridlock and demand common sense limits on toxic chemicals.”

The National Stroller Brigade builds on 30 local events in support of the Safe Chemicals Act, in locations as diverse as Little Rock, Arkansas and Omaha, Nebraska. Participants in the march flew or bused into Washington to deliver 130,000 petition signatures to their senators.

'Flame-retardant' chemicals  -- such as chlorinated Tris -- are among the toxins of most concern to the group. Such chemicals, reports the Los Angeles Times, are the kind commonly found in furniture and baby products, have been linked to neurological defects, cancer, developmental problems and impaired fertility.

The chemical industry has argued for decades that flame retardants save lives, but its claims are based on a few small studies. Activists say the chemicals do little to protect consumers from fires, reports the Times.

“It’s shocking that toxic chemicals end up in everyday consumer products, and in our bodies, without anyone proving that they are safe.  The stroller brigade is carrying an important message to Congress that we’re not going to stand by and let our kids continue to be exposed to chemicals that make them sick.  Concerned moms are the best weapons we have in this fight.  With their help, I will keep advancing the Safe Chemicals Act to reform our broken toxic chemical laws and provide a healthier future for our families,” said U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ).

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Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families: National Stroller Brigade at US Capitol

Moms turned out in large numbers in response to an investigative series by the Chicago Tribune, which exposed the chemical industry’s deceptive lobbying tactics to protect toxic chemicals. The moms divided up by state to deliver the thousands of petition signatures asking their Senators to support the Safe Chemicals Act.

Polly Schlaff, a mother of three boys and a widow, told her compelling story about losing her high-school sweetheart to cancer at the age of 35. “My husband’s cancer had no genetic links, a fact both reassuring and troubling to a single mother bent on protecting her children from illness.  No genetic flaw predisposes my sons to Ewing’s sarcoma, yet every day they, along with millions of other American children, are exposed to known and suspected carcinogens. This is unacceptable,” she said. Polly is a resident of Western Michigan and planned to visit Senator Stabenow in the afternoon.

Matthew Zachary, a young adult cancer survivor and Founder of Stupid Cancer also joined the Brigade, “I am here so that no young adult has to go through what I went through. The feelings of isolation, fear and stigma are something no child should face, and if there is an opportunity to prevent future cases of cancer, we must.”

Last year, Jessica Alba joined leading public health experts on Capitol Hill to ask key Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act, and now she sends her support to today’s event. Alba, an entrepreneur, actress, and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families spokesperson said, “I hear stories from parents across the country every day - they are frustrated with the lack of transparency and honesty about the safety of the chemicals in consumer products. I stand in support of the parents in Washington asking for stronger laws that protect our babies. We deserve the peace of mind of safe and healthy products.”

The event shows the diverse support for the Safe Chemicals Act, brining together people from over 30 states and with varied political backgrounds.  The Safe Chemicals Act is awaiting a vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Participants at this event hope to add urgency and pressure to this pending vote.

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Los Angeles Times: 'Stroller Brigade' rolls out for Safe Chemicals Act

The chemicals, which are common in furniture and baby products, have been linked to neurological defects, cancer, developmental problems and impaired fertility.

The chemical industry has argued for decades that flame retardants save lives, but its claims are based on a few small studies. Activists say the chemicals do little to protect consumers from fires.

 that after he read a series in the Chicago Tribune detailing the risks posed by flame-retarding chemicals, he worried that cushioned cradles he had bought for his twin grandchildren could be harming them.

"We're finding more and more babies and more and more children across America with these chemicals already in their bloodstream," Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a sponsor of the bill, said at a news conference. "How did that happen? It happens every time you sit down on the couch.... When you sit down, you release this fine spray of toxic chemicals right in the face of your baby."

Under a 1976 law, the Environmental Protection Agency has limited powers to investigate the safety of chemicals. Since the law passed, only four chemicals have been pulled from the market for safety reasons.

The new bill would require chemical manufacturers to provide safety information on all of their chemicals to the EPA and the public. The EPA would also be required to categorize chemicals by risk level.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, said that it supported updating the laws, but that the Safe Chemicals Act had "many serious flaws," including unachievable safety standards.

The Democratic-backed bill has yet to attract any Republican sponsors, something that Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), its lead sponsor, acknowledged would make it difficult to pass.

After the news conference, the activists, with seven strollers in the vanguard, set off to spend the afternoon lobbying senators in their offices. Jessica Burroughs, 40, of Durham, N.C., led 61/2-year-old Reuben by the hand.

"Toxic chemicals are everywhere," Burroughs said. "They're in the toys he plays with. Why is the government not protecting us?"

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