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Seeking Protection from Toxic Chemicals

CONGRESS CONSIDERING NEW LAW – Seeking protection from toxic chemicals

By Linda Modenbach, president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Oklahoma, which provides support and services to people with learning disabilities, as well as their families, educators and health care providers (originally posted in the Oklahoman on Saturday, November 19, 2011 Edition: DRIVE, Section: OPINION, Page 11A.)

I admit that I never used to think about chemistry. But as an advocate for the learning disabilities community, new science has piqued my interest in chemistry as it relates to the increase in learning and developmental disabilities.

Take, for example, a notorious group of toxic chemicals that permeate our lives. Toxic flame retardants are used in furniture, electronics, mattresses, building materials and carpeting. These chemicals are present in more than 90 percent of Americans and are found in umbilical cord blood. They build up in breast milk.

“A body of scientific evidence shows that these toxins can interfere with healthy brain development, contributing to learning and behavior problems and developmental delays.”

A body of scientific evidence shows that these toxins can interfere with healthy brain development, contributing to learning and behavior problems and developmental delays. Yet these chemicals were never tested for their effect on children’s brains and bodies before being mass produced and marketed.

Current law allows chemicals to go on the market untested for health effects, but Congress is on the verge of passing legislation to overhaul this outdated law. The Safe Chemicals Act would assure American families that the chemicals in our products are safe — especially for the developing fetus and children.

Even greater news is the growing bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate for the Safe Chemicals Act. Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., recently wrapped up a series of meetings on the Safe Chemicals Act, with positive reports from all involved.

The time is now for us to put common-sense limits on chemicals linked to serious disease and disability. The Learning Disabilities Association of Oklahoma is especially concerned with chemicals that can harm brain development, and with the particular vulnerability of children to toxic chemical exposures.

The incidence of learning and developmental disabilities is increasing, driven by the rising prevalence in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly one in six American children was diagnosed with a learning or developmental disability in 2008.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that environmental factors cause or contribute to at least a quarter of learning and developmental disabilities in American children. Scientists have learned that the developing brain is much more susceptible to toxic substances than the adult brain, and that certain chemicals can have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels once thought safe.

The learning and developmental disabilities community has been waiting a long time for protection from toxic chemicals used in commerce, our homes and workplaces. We applaud Inhofe in joining with Lautenberg to consider the Safe Chemicals Act in a productive, bipartisan manner. We anticipate Congress coming together at this critical time to pass a strong bill that protects the health of current and future generations of Americans.