Anyone see the Golden Globes? After seeing Natalie Portman sweep up Best Actress for her performance in Black Swan, I have come to the conclusion that she really seems to have it all: a Golden Globe, an Ivy League education, a handsome fiancé, and, what’s that I see, a baby on the way!?!
Like many pregnant women, she will be bombarded with lots of advice from friends, family, health care providers, and, of course, the media about how to be the “perfect” pregnant woman. She might even feel overwhelmed by all the things she “can’t” do and all the things she “should” do.
But here’s the rub: it seems no matter how “perfect” any pregnant woman tries to be, some things are simply beyond her control. A new study from UCSF, published last week in Environmental Health Perspectives, found several toxic chemicals in 99 percent to 100 percent of the pregnant women studied. Pregnant women were tested for 163 chemicals commonly found in pesticides, personal care products, non-stick cookware, and other common household items. The findings corroborate a smaller, earlier study, which found several of the same chemicals in the blood or urine of every pregnant woman included in their research. Two studies with substantial, convincing, and sound scientific evidence indicate that pregnant women, regardless of the steps they may take to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, are still exposed.
Just imagine the distress a pregnant woman must feel when she read studies like this. She might respond by deciding to only buy “green” products or organic food. But, she will only be further distraught when she learns her exposures are so varied and pervasive that simply trying to buy “greener” products cannot eliminate her exposure to toxic chemicals – it doesn’t matter who you are (Natalie Portman included) we can’t just shop our way out of the problem.
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Now imagine how chemical companies feel when they read or hear about studies revealing toxic chemicals in pregnant women. Well, so far, they do not seem to be very distressed or distraught and have shown little interest in changing their money-making strategy. But they can’t pretend the science isn’t there or that pregnant women aren’t especially vulnerable to the threats of toxic chemicals. Luckily, Congress can do something about it. The federal law governing chemicals in the U.S. – the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – is outdated, ineffective, and in serious need of a makeover. A strong bill, reforming and updating TSCA, will be introduced soon and once that happens, Congress will have all the tools to ensure lasting policy change. However, Congress will not do it without a little encouragement, so we must demand that our legislators protect our health and the health of our families by supporting and passing legislation that mitigates our exposure to toxic chemicals in our everyday lives.
Sure, we all think that just because chemicals are found in pregnant women, doesn’t mean my baby will have them. True enough. But statistics, studies, and reports show mounting evidence that toxic chemicals are associated with increases in infertility, genital malformations, learning disabilities, and cancer. In many cases, the effects of these toxic chemicals on babies don’t show up until later in life. Pregnant women have enough to worry about these days. They can’t – and shouldn’t have to – shoulder all the burden and responsibility for ensuring their babies are free from toxic chemicals.
If this study and the many others out there are any indication, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or even the resources you might have, because we are all exposed to toxic chemicals whether we like it or not. The good news is we can all do something about it. We can hold companies and Congress accountable through advocating for common-sense chemical policy reform. After all, a pregnant woman deserves more.