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Safe Chemicals Act, It’s Anything But “Extreme”

Polly-06.28.2012By Polly Schlaff

In August 2006, I returned from a trip to the grocery store to find my husband, Doug, sitting on the couch, staring at the carpeting.

“I don’t feel good,” he managed.

Doug was a college athlete and a runner, not one to whimper over discomfort. Alarmed, I abandoned the grocery bags at the door, and neared the couch.  As Doug lifted his face, I felt the flesh melt from my body.  His skin was the color of cement.

After a long night in the E.R. followed by surgery to repair a mysterious hole in his stomach, we learned the bitter truth.  Doug had cancer, to be specific, Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare disease with no known genetic link. The next two and a half years were a period of extreme suffering and upheaval for my husband and our young family.  In the end, Doug died at the age of 35.


Last week, Cal Dooley, president of the chemical industry’s trade association, criticized the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill that would increase the safety of chemicals in our consumer products, homes and environment as, “extreme.”

Extreme? I call it common sense.

The Safe Chemicals Act would increase chemical safety and protect the American public from routine exposure to toxic chemicals. This act is long overdue. Since the passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976, some 80,000 chemicals have been manufactured and produced in the U.S., the EPA has required testing on 200 for their effects on human health, and only a mere five have been restricted.

The President’s Cancer Panel, a leading panel of cancer researchers appointed by George W. Bush, criticized our current law, concluding that “the chemical industry operates virtually unfettered by regulation or accountability for harm caused by its products.”  In the same report, the panel concluded that environmental cancers had been grossly underestimated.

In 2004, I took my son Drew to a urologist to discuss surgery for a birth defect.  After explaining the procedure, the surgeon said, “You know, I hate to tell mothers this, but something you were exposed to during your pregnancy caused this.”  Drew is an identical twin, but his brother, being slightly heavier, received a smaller dose of the unknown toxin and remained unscathed.

Later I would learn that more than 200 chemicals circulate through human blood at any given time including before birth.  These same chemicals are passed to children through their mother’s breast milk.  Among these are environmental estrogens, a group of chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormonal system causing infertility, cancer, the early onset of puberty, and urological birth defects like Drew’s.


Memorial Day 2009, six months after Doug’s death, my sister’s 33 year old husband became dizzy and confused while crossing the street.  A colleague insisted he go to the hospital.  There, he was diagnosed with stage 3 brain cancer.

As I watched my sister, pregnant with her second child, struggle through the challenges of motherhood and a major medical crisis, I learned how woefully unprepared we are to protect our families from known and suspected carcinogens.

Due to proprietary laws, chemical companies are not required to disclose the untested ingredients in their products.  No reliable safety information exists for consumers.


Last month, a group of citizens from more than 30 states gathered in Washington D.C. for a National Stroller Brigade to deliver more than 130,000 petition signatures in support of the Safe Chemicals Act.  I was there with Doug’s mother and my three sons. The group consisted of nurses, pediatricians, teachers, steel workers and parents with young children – all united in the common cause of protecting the health of Americans.

Are moms, nurses, teachers and pediatricians extreme?

Later, Dooley complained that the act we supported would be expensive and difficult to implement for the chemical industry.  He predicted the bill would “stifle chemical innovation,” yet legislation similar to the Safe Chemicals Act has been in place in Europe since 2007.  In fact, many American companies make two versions of their products, the traditional version for the U.S. and a safer version for Europe.

Moreover, while lobbyists for the chemical industry spend millions to block regulation, the Safe Chemicals Act enjoys positive public opinion among voters on both sides of the aisle.

Americans should not have to wait for the protections enjoyed by the citizens of other countries.  We must demand that the products that permeate our communities, our homes and inevitably our bodies are safe.  In light of our health and the wellness of our loved ones, the stakes are high.

In fact, they are extreme.

Please join Polly and Take Action today to tell Congress we’re not extreme, we’re maintstream.

Follow us on Twitter @SaferChemicals and @Lindsay_SCHF