Frustrated local mom testifies to Senate: Why can’t I protect my baby from chemicals?

  Editor’s note: In November we wrote about a new study that discovered a variety of chemicals including mercury in the bodies of pregnant women. Today, we follow up on one of those studied moms; she appeared today before a U.S. Senate subcommittee to tell her story. 

   Molly Gray of Seattle for five years struggled with fertility and repeated miscarriages. She searched for an answer to why she was having trouble bringing a baby to term. So — as she told a Senate panel on Thursday — she discovered a connection between chemical exposures and their effect on health, particularly reproductive systems, and she made reasonable changes in her life: She did her best to eat organic food and low-mercury seafood, use personal-care products that didn’t contain chemicals called phthalates and fragrances, and avoid plastics–both cooking in or storing food in plastic.

  Imagine her surprise when, finally pregnant, she took part in a study of pregnant women that tested levels of chemicals in their bodies such as mercury, flame retardants, bisphenol A and phthalates.  Her results were higher than the national average in many of the substances tested.

  “I had the highest mercury of all the pregnant women tested,” she testified Thursday at a Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health hearing entitled, “Current Science on Public Exposures to Toxic Chemicals.” (Read her full testimony here.)

  “I wanted to see if my best intentions made a difference. The answer I received was incredibly disheartening. I was shocked that my levels were as high as they were. I learned that this fight to avoid toxins is larger than one person alone. These chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment and as clean as I tried to be, it was not enough to protect my baby boy.

 

  “Mothers-to-be can make many choices to ensure a healthy baby — we can take prenatal vitamins, exercise, avoid cigarettes and alcohol, and eat healthy diets. I am disappointed that with all of the choices we are able to make we do not have a choice to protect our children from the powerful influence of toxic chemicals on their developing bodies.

 ”…Something is wrong when I, as an educated consumer, am unable to protect my baby from toxic chemicals. I and all other parents should be able to walk into stores and buy what we need without winding up with products that put our families’ health at risk. Now that I’ve learned that companies can put chemicals into products without ever testing for whether they harm our health, I think we need to change our laws.”

  Gray was the only regular mom among the eight scheduled witnesses testifying at the Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., which aimed to examine the current science on public exposures to toxic chemicals.

  Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, MPH, associate professor and director of the program on Reproductive Health and Environment in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at University of California-San Francisco, described for the panel some “concerning” trends. Examples: More women in the US, particularly under age 25, are having difficulty conceiving and maintaining pregnancy. One in eight babies in the US are born premature — a 36 percent increase since the 1980s.

There is a growing concern about exposures to toxic chemicals, especially at particularly vulnerable times such as the prenatal period and early childhood, Dr. Woodruff said.

Chemical production has increased since World War II by more than twenty-fold, Dr. Woodruff said, making chemicals “now ubiquitous” in air, water, food and everyday household items.

They’re also in our bodies — 70 to 100 percent of the US population have measurable amounts of the following chemicals, among others, in their bodies: triclosan (used in liquid antibacterial hand soaps), PCBs, Bisphenol A.

Most people think chemicals in shampoos, lotions, cookware, containers and other everyday items are inert, Dr. Woodruff testified, “but they apparently are not.”

The National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Woodruff said, concluded that “we should not assume that there is a safe level of exposure to any individual chemical unless proven otherwise.”

Gray, the regular mom, said people often ask if her seven-month-old son is healthy. “My answer to that is as far as I know he is a healthy happy boy,” Gray told the Senate subcommittee. “My concerns are of the unknown. We have no idea what the longterm health implications of these results are and I do not want my precious son or other children to be our scientific experiment.”

   

Gray called on Senators to take these steps:

* Take immediate steps to eliminate the uses of persistent toxic chemicals –those that build up in bodies or are passed on to the next generation in the womb.

* Legislation should reduce the use of chemicals that have known serious health effects and ensure only the safest chemicals are created and used in everyday products.

* Create standards that protect vulnerable populations like pregnant women and developing fetuses.

 ”I am disappointed,” Gray said, “that toxic chemicals like the ones found in my body in pregnancy are in our environment, our personal-care products, our clothes, our furniture, our baby toys, and our food. Babies deserve to grow and develop in a healthy environment, in utero and out. But babies are born everyday already exposed to toxins linked to serious health problems. Safe until proven harmful is not good enough for my baby or me. I want our country to value the lives of its children the same way I value and love my son. It will take time to rid our population of this burden on our bodies — we need to start now.”

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ON THE WEB

Watch an archived webcast of the hearing here. Seattle mom Molly Gray’s testimony starts at about minute 76.

Read InvestigateWest’s take on the hearing here.

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SIDEBAR:

 

WHERE TO TURN

 Want to avoid phthalates or other chemicals at home? Consult these resources:

* Skin Deep www.cosmeticsdatabase.com

* Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: www.safecosmetics.org

* Healthytoys.org

* Saferchemicals.org

* Washington Toxics Coalition www.watoxics.org 

 

Further reading:

* Plastics Ingredients Could Make a Boy’s Play Less Masculine (by Science News)

* Mercury Found in Blood of One-Third of American Women (by Environment News Service; SEJ)

* A Glut of Mercury Raises Fears (by Washington Post)

* FDA Knew about Mercury in Corn Syrup — and Kept Silent (by Chicago Tribune; SEJ Tipsheet)

* Teflon Woes Still Sticking to Food Packaging (www.Sej.org)

* BPA May Affect Sexual Function in Adult Men, Study Finds (by ConsumerReports Health Blog)

* Puget Sound: Down the Drain? When you wash clothes, you pollute (by Seattlepostglobe)

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3 Responses to Frustrated local mom testifies to Senate: Why can’t I protect my baby from chemicals?

  • Jody Allen Crowe:

    “Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, MPH,…. described for the panel some “concerning” trends. Examples: More women in the US, particularly under age 25, are having difficulty conceiving and maintaining pregnancy. One in eight babies in the US are born premature — a 36 percent increase since the 1980s.”
    No mention of prenatal exposure to alcohol in this statistic. We test for mercury and lead, but we do not test for alcohol exposure. Alcohol is a teratogen, an agent that will kill cells fo the embryo before the mother knows she is pregnant and kill brain cells of the fetus, many times causing miscarriages and premature births. Any research that samples for other chemicals, but does not take into consideration actual sampling of alcohol use by the mother is, by design, unreliable.

  • Blue Light:

    We enjoy the longest life expectancies in the entire history of our species. Molly Gray could, indeed, “protect her baby from chemicals”. But it would entail moving to a pristine wilderness, growing her own (organic!) food, suffering with a quadrupled infant mortality rate and dying at the age of forty five. I suppose that would make her happy.

  • Orna Izakson, ND:

    This is such a hard story. Thanks, Ms. Deneen, for bringing it to us.