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Go Ask Mom

MomsRising: Keeping toxins out of our homes

Posted August 30, 2011 8:00 p.m. EDT

I always knew that as a mom I’d have to wear many hats, but I have to admit that I never imagined the job would require tapping into my inner chemist! But increasingly, that’s exactly what I feel I need to be to keep my family safe from the toxins that are found in products we use in our home every day.

Each news cycle seems to bring word of new research showing how chemicals like the BPA found in the lining of canned soup or the flame-retardants in the fabric of our children’s car seats pose risks to our kids’ health.

Over this past year, we've learned more and more about the problem of toxic chemicals. In 2010, the President's Cancer Panel showed a link between exposure to toxic chemicals and rising cancer rates. Six months later, new research from the Journal of Pediatrics showed that a recent rise in early puberty for girls is linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors, which are rampant in everyday items, such as household cleaners and cosmetics.

We as parents want to do all we can to keep our children safe and make decisions that are healthy for our families. But that’s difficult when chemical companies aren’t required to prove the safety of their products or disclose this information to the public. No matter how careful we are, this isn’t a situation we can shop our way out of because information isn’t available. And, frankly, you shouldn’t need a PhD in chemistry to buy a toy or a car seat for your child!

Recently, North Carolina moms went to talk with Sen. Kay Hagan and Sen. Richard Burr’s staffs about why we support comprehensive toxic chemical reform. Our current system for assessing chemical safety is badly broken. The federal chemical screening system that is supposed to keep us safe from the harmful effects of chemicals hasn’t changed in 35 years, despite increasing rates of diseases like asthma, diabetes, childhood cancers, infertility, and learning and behavioral disorders and increasing evidence showing how chemicals currently on the market cause and contribute to these illnesses.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our primary chemical safety law, was passed in 1976. Back then, we didn’t know as much about how toxic chemicals can migrate from the materials and products in which they're used – including furniture, plastics, and food cans – into our bodies. Thirty-five years later, The Federal Centers for Disease Control has found that the blood or tissues of almost every American carry hundreds of these chemicals, some present even before birth.

Yet under the outdated TSCA, the EPA has only been able to require testing of a few hundred of the 62,000 chemicals that have been on the market since TSCA was passed 35 years ago, a number that has increased to 85,000 chemicals today.

TSCA doesn’t require chemical companies to prove the chemicals they make are safe before they end up in products. In fact, manufacturers routinely keep basic safety information secret  -  making it hard for the average consumer to make informed choices when shopping.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Nurses Association are speaking out to support chemical reform because they know this broken chemical screening system puts our families’ health at risk.

Parents’ voices are powerful, too, and it’s important that our lawmakers hear North Carolina parents support comprehensive toxic chemical reform.

To find out more about the dangers of toxic chemicals and current reform efforts, visit the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition at

And please consider adding your voice to those of parents all over the country as we ask our federal lawmakers to support comprehensive toxic chemicals reform!

Beth Messersmith is a Durham mother of two and member of NC MomsRising members write monthly for Go Ask Mom.