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Happy Mother’s Day, Lisa Jackson!

By Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

Happy Mother's Day, Lisa Jackson! This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a good day to reflect on the role moms are playing in the movement for safety and health, and also an opportunity to appreciate a particular mom out there, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Lisa Jackson, with a lot of weight on her shoulders.

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign came together around the need for new federal policy to protect our families from the toxic chemicals that intrude on our homes and workplaces without our consent. Though we’ve solicited and offered consumer tips on how to avoid certain chemicals on our website, we feel pretty strongly that the burden can’t be on consumers to “shop their way” out of the problem. (I’ve worked on these issues for years and I’m still often stumped by family members’ questions about particular products.)

At the same time, it’s clear the attention that consumers – and particularly moms – pay to this issue is a real force for change. When new moms responded to the science showing that the chemical BPA was toxic at very small doses, the market for baby bottles made with the BPA plastic dried up very quickly. Major retailers got the message that they could be stuck with an unpopular, unsellable product unless they had a handle on the chemical pedigree of what they were selling. Some of them initiated new policies- for purely business reasons- to avoid being caught with inventory containing another suddenly unpopular chemical. This in turn has led to additional reductions in chemicals in consumer products. I’ve talked about these corporate policies elsewhere, but here the point is that some real changes have occurred because informed moms exercised their power of the purse.

As the struggle for safer chemicals and healthy families continues, we should all take a moment to acknowledge another powerful mom who’s just trying to do the right thing

All the opinion research I’ve seen also suggests that women in general and moms in particular have a more accurate picture of the science around these issues than they are given credit for. They intuitively get that the environment isn’t something “out there” that needs to be protected, but is rather “right here” in our homes, schools and workplaces. They also get that certain practices or substances we wouldn’t worry about for an adult can be dangerous for children or pregnant women. On this point they are swimming in the mainstream of what the peer-reviewed science has been telling us for at least a decade: that very small doses of some common chemicals cause disease, particularly when a developing fetus is exposed through the woman’s exposure. We also know from peer-reviewed government-backed studies that pregnant women have these chemicals in their bodies. The government simply does not know how to handle this. The industry claims it does, but can’t back up its claims.

Which brings us back to Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator. We were all thrilled when she made reform of chemical policies a priority in the fall of 2009. She acknowledged the science linked chemical exposure to diseases and disorders in humans, and decried the agency’s lack of the tools it needed to address chemicals. She and her Deputy for this issue, Steve Owens, quickly dismantled a phony voluntary industry reporting program that the Bush Administration had set up. She became a leading advocate for Congressional reform of the Toxic Substance Control Act, but also vowed to use the limited authority she had under the law to make a dent in the problem. She also spoke plainly about her own perspective as a mom and about bringing that perspective to her role as our main public health enforcer. Based on her public behavior and the handful of times I’ve met her, Jackson seems like the real deal: a highly skilled, down-to-earth leader who is doing what she can in her position to make this country safer and healthier.

But now, for her trouble, Lisa Jackson is under relentless attack from some in Congress simply for doing her job. And the White House is sending mixed messages where it should be wholly in her corner on these issues. The Obama Administration’s budget proposed an increase for her chemical management activities, which is good. At the same time however, the White House office that oversees new environmental regulations (it’s called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) has stalled most of the modest rules Jackson has proposed to get a better grip on chemicals. (My colleague Richard Denison has blogged about these in detail here).

The petition to President Obama many of you have signed on the 2010 President’s Cancer Panel Report may soon help elevate this issue with the White House. But for now, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, we’re asking you to do something simple. Please go to Lisa Jackson’s Facebook page and “like” her. (We thought about sending flowers, but there were the carbon footprint issues and gift restrictions.) As the struggle for safer chemicals and healthy families continues, we should all take a moment to acknowledge another powerful mom who’s just trying to do the right thing.