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Parenting, Chemicals Policy and Asking the Right Questions

Charlotte BrodyIt took me a ridiculously long time to train myself to not ask my sons, “How was school?” when they got into the car or walked into the door in the late afternoon. They both seemed to be born knowing that the only correct answer to that question was, “Okay” or an occasional, “Meh.”

But I kept asking, “How was school?” just as my mother had asked me, “How was school?” One day I finally realized that, while it was a comfortable routine, it never told me what I needed to know to take care of my children. If I really wanted to know if my sons needed help with homework or a problem with a teacher, I had to stop asking, “How was school?” and start the conversation in a different place.

I could do what I’d always done. Or I could change the question and get the information I needed to improve my sons’ daily lives. These were my babies. I changed the question. And while my new behavior did not turn me into a perfect mother, my family’s life was improved by my actions.

In 1976, two years before my eldest son was born, Congress passed and President Ford signed the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA).

And for more than 30 years, TSCA has been the lousy parent that only wants to hear “okay” as the answer to “How are we doing with chemicals?” TSCA grandfathered in the 60,000 chemicals that were in use when it became law and set a ridiculously high bar for EPA to jump over before it could act (EPA has to prove the proposed restriction is the “least burdensome alternative” for eliminating “an unreasonable risk.”) As a result, EPA has only required testing on 200 of the now 80,000 chemicals in use and only restricted five. And the last time the EPA tried to use TSCA to restrict a chemical was 1991.

While EPA’s TSCA chemical management system has been stuck since 1991, the science on how chemicals can harm human health has grown dramatically. Some of that new science is in a report I co-authored that is being released today by the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition. The report, “The Health Case for Reforming the Toxics Substances Control Act,” documents the increase in leukemia, brain cancer, and other childhood cancers, breast cancer, autism, difficulty in conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy, certain birth defects, preterm births and asthma. [pullquote]/It shows how new scientific evidence is linking the increase in some cancers, learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive problems, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease and asthma and other diseases and disorders to chemicals./[/pullquote] And it makes the case for chemical policy reform as a different kind of health care reform, with the potential to save the American people an estimated 5 billion dollars every year in health care costs when it is fully implemented.

Meaningful TSCA reform will give EPA the authority to ask chemical manufacturers the right questions: What is the evidence that this chemical is safe? If there is evidence that a chemical is hurting the health of people and the environment, where are these exposures coming from? Are some people being more harmed than others and how do we protect the more vulnerable? Do we need to use this chemical or are there safer alternatives? Is this chemical so dangerous that its use need to be restricted or banned?

These are the questions that a protective and responsible chemical management system needs to be able to ask — and that chemical manufactures need to answer. And they are the questions that parents need to know the government is addressing so we can take care of our families. Almost half of all Americans – 133 million people – now have one or more chronic disease. If TSCA reform results in a slight decrease in asthma, a few less children with leukemia, a small decline in the incidence of learning disabilities, it will not only save money on health care costs, it will alleviate the suffering of American families.

Now we need to ask Congress the right questions. Will they stand up for our health and stand up to the lobbyists for the chemical and oil industry? Will they introduce and pass a bill that gives EPA the power to protect our health? And will they do it in 2010 and end the 34-year practice of pretending that no information is the same as no problem? We hope our new report will inspire you to write to your member of Congress with some tough questions.