Already a legislative leader in reducing children’s toxic exposure, Maryland is now the third state to officially designate today as Children’s Environmental Health Day. The state’s new eco-holiday is an ideal time to take stock of the clear link between negative health outcomes for kids and the 80,000 mostly untested chemicals found in our air, water, consumer products and food, and perhaps more importantly, to consider taking steps to reduce our kids’ exposure to everyday chemicals.
October 12: A Day To Focus on Kids and Chemicals
Championed by the nonprofits Maryland Environmental Health Network and the Children’s Environmental Health Network, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford has officially christened every second Thursday in October as Children’s Environmental Health Day. This statewide effort to highlight children’s environmental hazards is intended to help protect kids from all neighborhoods and backgrounds.
“Today Maryland recognizes Children’s Environmental Health Day in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of protecting future generations from environmental hazards in our rapidly changing world,” Rutherford said at the official ceremony in Annapolis.
Maryland has a history of confronting toxic risks to kids. The state was the first to legislate integrated pesticide management and green cleaning practices in schools. Integrated pest management urges schools to find non-toxic methods to control pests on school grounds, while green cleaning mandates that Maryland’s school systems choose non-toxic, yet still-effective cleaning supplies.
Growing kids — especially those in the womb — are more vulnerable to chemical exposure because of their smaller body masses. Everyday chemicals are linked to a long and serious list of long-lasting health-related issues during critical cognitive and physical development, according to the World Health Organization.
A new day designated to raising awareness is an added step for protecting Maryland’s youth from silently harmful chemicals.
“We look forward to continued action in Maryland on the front lines of health to protect the environment for all children,” said Maryland Environmental Health Network executive director Tamara Toles O’Laughlin.
Are Everyday Chemicals Really A Big Deal?
I used to be skeptical about what I figured was mostly hype surrounding kids and chemicals. I had made a reasonable assumption that someone with smarts and authority was conducting safety tests.
I was wrong.
The serious-sounding federal Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 wasn’t actually all that serious, since it didn’t require manufacturers to test new chemicals prior to market launch. In reality, TSCA is just a database for companies to list the roughly 84,000 chemicals they use. Even better, the 62,000 chemicals in use prior to 1976 were grandfathered in and thus deemed safe.
Only when human health issues surfaced over time was the EPA given authority to test a questionable chemical’s safety. Only nine chemicals have since been banned. Chemical manufacturers have been generous with other people’s health.
Even though TSCA was improved in 2016, increased chemical testing is not expected under Trump’s EPA under the leadership of Scott Pruitt.
A recent example is the EPA’s reversal of the 2015 decision to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos. The science is clear: chlorpyrifos causes neurological harm to humans and animals, even at low levels of exposure. Yet Pruitt’s EPA reversed the 2015 chlorpyrifos ban, citing that farmers needed certainty about using the pesticide while still protecting people.
What To Do?
Though Maryland is taking steps to legislate toxic-free practices, it’s smart to educate yourself about toxic chemicals and know which ones to steer clear of.
The Six Classes framework developed by the Green Science Policy Institute provides a logical grouping of six categories of chemicals to avoid, and offers some alternatives. Check out the nonprofit’s excellent video collection outlining the six classes, their associated health problems and how to reduce exposure.
Other great resource include the Green Mama Guide developed by Women’s Voices for the Earth, the Children’s Environmental Health Network’s Eco-Healthy Childcare Guide and the Pediatric Environment Health Toolkit from Physicians for Social Responsibility, which is notably approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics. You’ll notice a pattern: the same group of chemicals-to-avoid pops up on each resource.
Reducing your family’s chemical exposure is all about changing shopping habits. The simplest way to buy green is to lean on our area’s eco-friendly stores, as their buyers often do the guesswork for you. Whole Foods, MOM’S Organic Market, Wegmans’ organic section, Giant’s Nature Promise Free-From line and Target’s Method products line are all toxic-free options for personal care and cleaning products.
When tackling home projects, research what’s in the paints and materials you’re using. Store extra paint cans and chemicals outside of your basement. I’ve found the hardest chemical to avoid is synthetic fragrances, or phthalates, a known endocrine (hormone) disruptor.
You can also check out our other articles on this topic below. Read through to see the prevalence of synthetic chemicals in everyday products and the consequences of their use to our health and our environment.