Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

MomsRising: Family movie night? Hold the toxic chemicals, please!

Posted April 2, 2013

In our house, the living room is the center of activity. It’s where we play games together, visit with guests and watch TV. As in most American homes, we have a couch in our living room, which is the single most popular piece of furniture in the house. Each Friday, we all snuggle up on it together for some much needed rest and a movie night.

This is why when I heard that over 85 percent of couches in American homes contain toxic flame retardants, I was concerned that my family’s weekly ritual could actually be hazardous to our health!

A recent study led by Duke University found chlorinated Tris in 41 percent of the couches they tested. Tris is a probable human carcinogen that was removed from baby pajamas in 1977. PentaBDE’s were found in 17 percent of the couches which are hormone disruptors and a potential cause for developmental neurotoxicity.

There’s about a pound of these and other toxic flame retardants in our couches — where we take afternoon naps, where we relax after a long day, or where we cuddle with the kids and have family time.

I’m one of those moms for which the internet can be both my worst enemy and my best friend. I’ll research things endlessly when it comes to the health of my child. Sometimes I find so much information I get overwhelmed, but most of the time I figure out what I need to do to solve the problem.

Honestly, the more I read about toxic chemicals, the madder I got, because I found out it’s not just couches that are the problem. We are exposed to toxic chemicals every day through our food, in make-up and lotions, and even in our kids’ toys. We know this because scientists can detect the chemicals in our bloodstream, and they can even pass through the placenta.

Another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that mothers who had pentaBDE in their blood during pregnancy, had children with lower birth weight, IQ scores, attention spans, and fine motor coordination. Pretty disturbing, right? And there are countless other studies.

I just keep thinking to myself, “How could this happen?” and “What can we do to fix it?”

Like most people, I assumed that there were laws that required chemicals to be tested before they make it into the products we use. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, most manufacturers don’t even know if the materials they use to make their products are safe because the chemical companies don’t have to test them. And the stores that order the products from the manufacturers to put on their shelves? They know even less about whether they are safe.

The laws that regulate chemicals are severely lacking and out of date. The last major piece of legislation that was written to address this problem was the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. It was supposed to regulate chemicals in everyday products, however, it grandfathered in over 60,000 chemicals. Since then, only 200 of those have been tested for safety, only 5 of which have been restricted.

There are now over 80,000 chemicals used in consumer products which have never been tested to see what effects they have on humans and our environment. The TSCA allows chemical manufacturers to keep some of these chemicals secret, which makes it nearly impossible for the consumer to know what is in the products they are buying.

Here is what was most shocking to me about all of this: The TSCA does not require makers of chemicals to prove they are safe before they are put into products. Instead, it requires the government to prove they are unsafe in order to place regulations on them. To me, that makes it perfectly clear that we (our children, husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers) are the guinea pigs and basically no one is monitoring the results of this experiment.

Thankfully, I found hope that Congress might soon be acting to remedy this enormous problem. The Safe Chemicals Act is going to be introduced into the Senate, and it is up to us to tell our Senators to support it. The bill will put common sense limits on toxic chemicals and help to keep our family’s health safe. Please call Senator Burr and Senator Hagan today and tell them to co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act.

Hopefully soon, we won’t have to worry about exposure to toxic chemicals at family movie might. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.

Felicia Willems is NC Campaign Associate with and a Raleigh mom of one.


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  • itsyoureternalsoul Apr 3, 2013

    Something worth worrying about might be nice

  • myself Apr 3, 2013

    Great post!