When a woman finds out that she is pregnant, usually one of the first things she does is seek out information from books or health care professionals about what she should and shouldn’t be doing to ensure she has a healthy pregnancy.
She can easily find information about foods to avoid and supplements to take. But what isn’t as readily available is information about which products in her home contain harmful chemicals. Are there phthalates in the shower curtain or in her shampoo? Is there bisphenol-A in the jar of tomato sauce in the cupboard? Are there toxic chemical flame retardants in the couch cushions?
The fact is that parents, pregnant women and even doctors and nurses are often left in the dark when it comes to the safety of many of the products we bring into our homes every day.
Throughout my career as a pediatrician, I have watched what was already an impressive collection of scientific research grow into a mountain of overwhelming evidence that our children’s health is threatened every day by dangerous chemicals in our homes.
And because it is virtually impossible to know in which products the danger lies, it’s no wonder that we have witnessed a tremendous increase in childhood asthma, developmental disabilities and childhood cancers.
Take the class of toxic chemicals called phthalates. Used in soft plastic products and fragrances, these hormone-disrupting chemicals readily enter the human body through breathing, eating and skin contact, including the frequent hand-to-mouth activity by toddlers. Phthalates are linked to birth defects in baby boys, harm to healthy brain development, asthma and allergies.
It’s hard not to feel like we are failing miserably at protecting our children from toxic threats that could rob them of their chances to live healthy, productive lives. But it would be easy to make a course correction, if we can muster the political will to stand up to the long arm and deep pockets of the chemical industry.
The science is clear that the earliest stages of child development are most crucial for determining a healthy future. By reducing exposure to dangerous chemicals like phthalates, we could prevent some children from developing serious and costly health problems later in life.
In spite of this knowledge, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been excluding pregnant women from recent health protections and acting like a pregnant woman’s exposure to toxic chemicals is not a priority.
Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act, which was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2008, contains language that is crystal clear: Follow the best science and address toxic chemical exposure in both children and pregnant women.
The DEP’s recent decision to significantly scale back a citizen-proposed action on four phthalates – chemicals that are proven beyond reasonable doubt to threaten healthy pregnancies – is just the latest example of the agency’s willingness to ignore credible science and the intent of Maine lawmakers.
Fortunately, there is a solution, thanks to Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who is taking action to require the DEP to use every tool in the Kid-Safe toolbox to help protect both children and pregnant women.
Gideon has introduced the Healthy Kids Bill (L.D. 948), which would do three important things to address parents’ and pregnant women’s right to know about dangerous chemicals in everyday products:
• Gideon’s bill would require the Maine DEP to include products that threaten the health of both children and pregnant women in any rulemaking.
• It would require manufacturers to report which products sold in Maine contain Chemicals of High Concern (chemicals that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Maine DEP both agree pose a serious health threat to families).
• It would collect information about safer substitutes for toxic chemicals. These are authorities that the Maine DEP already has, but has abdicated since 2011.
The Maine DEP is leaving pregnant women and children needlessly exposed to toxic chemicals while their tools to improve health get rusty from lack of use. The Healthy Kids Bill offers a common-sense path forward in supporting parents’ and pregnant women’s right to know which products contain harmful chemicals like phthalates.
This has never been a partisan issue, and it shouldn’t be one now. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, lawmakers should come together and pass the Healthy Kids Bill. Healthy pregnancies start with good information, including information about toxic chemicals in our homes.