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Making the health case for safer chemicals

Liz and Erin Mead with Gene Green
SCHF Legislative Director Liz Hitchcock and Stupid Cancer volunteer Erin Mead meet with Rep. Gene Green (TX-29) about health issues and TSCA reform.

One of my favorite parts of my job as legislative director for the campaign is connecting “real” people with members of Congress and their staffs– putting a human face on our coalition and on the need to put public health front and center when we talk about reforming chemical policy.

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families was fortunate to have a great group of health partners who came to DC to join us in meetings on Capitol Hill last week.   Taking time from their families and practices to join us were young adult cancer survivors who volunteer with Stupid Cancer, doctors from the National Medical Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the National Hispanic Medical Association, and nurses from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and the National Black Nurses Association. We had representatives from the Learning Disabilities Association and the Endometriosis Association join our team of DC-based coalition partners in meetings with House and Senate offices on both sides of the Hill to send a strong message that chemical policy reform has to have public health front and center to be REAL reform.

I love bringing our health partners to Capitol Hill.  It’s not just that I get to spend time with the terrific people in our coalition and give them the nickel tour of Capitol Hill, but I get to watch the light bulbs go on for congressional staff when they see close up what we mean by the health consequences of our broken chemical policy.

Staffers who may take notes and watch the clock very politely when they meet with me and others on the SCHF Hill team sit up and take notice when a young adult shares their story of their life after a cancer diagnosis.   As one of our doctors pointed out this week, “Being cured of cancer is not the same as never having cancer.”

I watched staffers nod their heads as Annie Acosta from The Arc or Maureen Swanson from the Learning Disabilities Association talked about increases in the prevalence of autism and learning disabilities and the growing understanding of their link to chemical exposures.

U.S. chemical policy is complicated stuff made even more complicated by the army of lobbyists deployed on Capitol Hill every day by the chemical lobby. (Our colleagues at the Environmental Working Group recently reported on the record spending by the chemical lobby.)

BCapitolut the fact that real people are living with the consequences of our flawed and outdated chemical policy is easier to understand.   Easier still is recognizing that people whose lives have been touched by cancer, infertility, autism, learning disabilities and other conditions that are on the rise are watching to make sure that Congress enacts REAL chemical policy reform so we can prevent some of these conditions.

The health professionals and members of groups like Stupid Cancer and the Endometriosis Association went through a lot to come to DC to tell their stories in meeting after meeting with Congressional staff.  In addition to weather related flight delays, one of our physicians had a near collision on the tarmac.  They all learned how much walking and waiting goes into bringing your case to Washington.

At the end of the day, folks went home excited to keep telling their stories, and I’m convinced that they are going to stick with it until Congress gets it right. I’m already looking forward to their next visit.