Three months ago, a friend emailed us a disturbing scientific study entitled: “Younger mothers' breast milk has highest levels of flame retardants.” Researchers at the UNC School of Public Health found that nearly three-quarters of 300 North Carolina mothers studied had some amount of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in their breast milk. These common flame retardants, which have been shown to be toxic to the brain and hormone system, end up in all of our bodies. They are used in household products like computers, televisions, mattresses and textiles despite having safer, non-toxic alternatives.
We both breastfed our young sons and it is distressing to know that along with the wonderful benefits, we were also serving up a dose of toxic chemicals. Babies and children are at greater risk from chemicals that affect their developing bodies than are adults. However, PBDEs are so pervasive that individuals can limit their exposure, but not avoid them entirely.
How could our country have let this happen?
In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Although intended to protect us from toxic chemicals, it has proven to be dangerously ineffective. The law grandfathered in all 60,000 chemicals used in consumer products at the time, meaning that those chemicals are virtually unregulated in this country. This is surely a system that takes too many risks with our children’s health.
What can we do? We need to update the law to ensure that chemicals are proven safe before they end up in consumer products and ultimately our bodies. Sen. Frank Lautenberg introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 on April 15 that aims to do just that. We look forward to working with our elected representatives to ensure that the bill requires manufacturers to provide basic health and safety information on chemicals before they enter the marketplace, and that we take immediate action on chemicals like PBDEs, which persist in our bodies and environment.
We will continue to be confident that we made the right choice to breast feed our children. We will continue to ensure that mothers and children have a strong voice as the debate to reform TSCA takes shape in Congress. It is time that we move away from the “chemical of the day” headlines and more towards a system that truly ensures that our bodies are free of toxic chemicals.
If you are interested in reducing your child’s exposure to another type of toxins, we urge you to attend a parents’ workshop on decreasing your child’s exposure to pesticides at home and at daycare/preschool. We’re partnering with Toxic Free NC on the workshop, which is 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 15 at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Garrett Road in Durham.
The workshop is geared towards parents of infants to 6-year-olds. Childcare and refreshments will be provided. Go to www.momsrising.org/childsafe to register or for more information.
Kristie Mather and Jessica Nakell Burroughs are Triangle moms and members of NC MomsRising.