Posted by: Chloe Schwabe | November 9, 2011

New Reports Signal Need to Protect Children from Toxic Chemicals

As people of faith, we are called to care for children’s health. Some examples of this call in the Bible include when God makes and renews a covenant with Moses and later with Isaac to protect future generations (Genesis, Exodus). Jesus called his disciples to respect the little children (Matthew 18:2-4). Yet children are exposed to toxic chemicals from the womb and in their early years  during critical moments of development. Toxic exposures are linked to developmental and physical disabilities, early puberty in girls and other reproductive challenges; and they are linked to chronic conditions later in life such as obesity, type II diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Recognizing our call to bear witness to injustices facing the most vulnerable, the National Council of Churches is preparing a Congressional briefing next week to highlight the moral concerns related to our failed federal chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

In the last few weeks, two peer reviewed reports from the environmental health community highlight the need for desperate reform of broken chemical regulations that endanger children’s health. The authors of Mattress Matters tested baby mattresses for chemicals of concern. Baby mattresses may contain chemicals in any part of the mattress structure: 1) the core, 2) padding, 3) flame retardant material and chemicals, and 4) a cover or “ticking,” which may also have chemicals added to make it waterproof. Women’s Voices for the Earth tested 28 crib mattresses for safety and found that 72 percent of the mattresses contained chemicals of concern. Nearly 40 percent of the companies refused to share information so they are keeping the chemicals and health impacts a secret.

The issue of flame retardants in children’s mattresses highlights the dire need for reform of TSCA. In the last few years many mattress companies have phased the toxic flame retardants, known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) out of children’s mattresses and baby products. They are linked to brain and thyroid cancer and developmental delays. They also build up in the environment and even end up in human breast milk. They are related to another group of persistent bioaccumulative chemicals called PCBs that were removed from commerce in the 1970s, but still found in penguins, polar bears and other species today.

However, PBDEs in baby products and mattresses were replaced by other toxic chemicals, such as Chlorinated Tris. Chlorinated Tris was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s as a suspected carcinogen and mutagen. States are already starting to pass policies phasing Chlorinated Tris out. New York passed the first ban in the country this year. California added it to their list of carcinogens, mutagens, and endocrine disrupting chemicals under proposition 65 too. Washington state is now considering a ban and momentum is building. Here is another great study that highlights flame retardants in children’s products.

Baby’s Tub is Still Toxic from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a new report that highlights the brokenness of our cosmetics law. They did a  report in 2009 that found 82 percent of products contained formaldehyde and 67 percent contained 1,4 dioxane. Both are carcinogens and both were found in Johnson’s and Johnson’s products. The new report tested specifically Johnson’s and Johnson’s products and found that they still contain both chemicals. Since this report’s release, Johnson’s and Johnson’s has announced that they will be phasing both chemicals out of their products.

This is a small victory, but real reform of the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act is needed. Cosmetics include any personal care product we put on our bodies- from deodorant to lipstick. Currently ingredients in cosmetics go virtually unregulated and the industry self policies itself with a non-binding group made up of industry representatives. Conversations on reform are underway in both the House and the Senate right now. To learn more about chemicals in baby products, hair straighteners, and other products, and possible solutions, listen to a webinar we did with Stacy Malkan, author and coalition member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. I also discuss in the webinar why this is an issue of faith.

We need to know that chemicals are safe and we need to ensure that toxic chemicals are not used as replacements for other toxic chemicals in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our society- future generations. Unfortunately the policies in place that are supposed to protect us from toxic chemicals fail to do so.  Nor do they ensure that we replace toxic chemicals with safe ones. It is time for a serious conversation on reform that ensures all God’s people can live, work, play, and pray in healthy environments.


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