When Randi Abrams-Caras went to her child’s day care center, she asked about her son’s nap mat. Within a short time, she had it checked only to learn “it tested very high for lead and other toxic flame retardants.”
She has been reading about the ingredients in baby shampoo, jewelry, toys and just about everything else ever since, continually learning how many toxic chemicals there are in some common items. She combined this with her knowledge that these chemicals reach a fetus through its mother, infants through breast milk and children through things they touch and eat.
It became clear to her that her tikkun olam, repair the world, project was set, Abrams-Caras said. She currently is a lobbyist with Washington Toxics Collective and was in D.C. Tuesday to join close to 200 parents and their children at the second “Stroller Brigade.”
The families came from 40 states to speak with their congressional representatives concerning what they believe is the need to test and alert the public to the many chemicals in everyday life. They brought their young children, pushing many in strollers, because growing children have the most to lose from exposure to toxic chemicals.
“I am so tired of feeling that I have to have a Ph.D. in toxicology to be a good parents,” said actress Jennifer Beals, who addressed the protesting families gathered in front of the Capitol. “What is good for a tire is not good for a child,” she said.
“Dow, DuPont, you are not allowed to take up residence in my DNA,” declared the actress who is famous for her role in Flashdance and the Showtime drama The L Word.
Many of the participating parents urged their Congress members to tighten legislation limiting toxic chemicals from much of the nation’s food, clothing and electronics. They said the current bill before the U.S. Senate, the first one in almost 40 years, is not strong enough, and they called on the politicians to allow individual states to pass toxic chemical laws.
Toxic chemicals “are in couches. They are in carpets. They are in electronics. They are even in the receipt that I got from the organic food store,” said Sara Chieffo, as she held her 6-month-old daughter. These chemicals are even in a Spongebob Square Pants’ rain ponchos, said Chieffo, legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters.
Katie Huffling of Mount Rainier joined the Maryland stroller brigade with the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. As a nurse and a midwife, she is concerned about a rise in young couples experiencing fertility problems. “It’s a complex issue. It seems like the chemicals are a part of the puzzle,” she said.
The current Toxic Substances Control Act is viewed as ineffective, said Dr. Yolanda Whyte, a pediatrician from Atlanta. “Diverse organizations of doctors agree on the urgency of reforming our toxic chemical laws and the critical elements needed for it to be meaningful,” she said as she addressed the crowd.
“The proposal before Congress does not meet that test. We’re here to tell Congress that reform needs to be meaningful and credible with the public health community,” she said.
Lindsay Dahl, deputy director of Safe Chemical Health Families, a national coalition based in D.C. that hosted the event, explained that the idea for a stroller brigade arose when parents in several states addressed their legislators and then posted photos on social media. It was then decided to hold a nationwide protest with children being pushed in strollers and others running freely around the gathering.
“Lots of men and women when they become new parents start asking new questions,” Dahl said. The parents want to know if their child’s car seat is safe but also whether it was made with toxic fire retardant chemicals, she noted.
Toxic chemicals have been linked to cancer, birth defects, early puberty, asthma and other illnesses and have been found in such everyday products as household cleaners, children’s toys and building materials, according to the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition.
“Americans have woken up to the fact that known toxic chemicals get into our homes and our bodies, often through the products we buy, and that the government doesn’t do a thing about it,” said Andy Igrejas, coalition director. “We need reform that truly protects American families from chemicals that contribute to the rising rates of childhood cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and other health problems. The current proposal before Congress does not meet that standard.”