children’s health

Dow Chemicals Vinyl Plant in Freeport, TX.Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011

10,000 Schools Located Half Mile From Chemical Facility

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By Kate Sheppard http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-sheppard
A new study released Wednesday finds there are almost 10,000 schools across the country located within a mile of a chemical facility.

The research was released ahead of the April 17 anniversary of an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, which killed 15 people and injured hundreds of others. The explosion left many people wondering why schools and homes were located so close to the plant.

The report finds that 4.6 million children attend a school located within a mile of a facility that stores potentially risky chemicals.

The research, from the nonprofit organization Center for Effective Government, maps the facilities covered under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Plan Rule. That rule requires all companies that process, distribute or store certain toxic or flammable chemicals to create and submit an emergency plan. It must describe the potential impacts of an accident, the facility’s accident history, what emergency responders need to know to treat anyone impacted by an accident and any prevention measures that are in place.

There are 12,761 facilities in the U.S. that had registered plans under RMP as of May 2013, including storage facilities, refineries and factories. The RMP rule covers a number of potentially dangerous chemicals. Ammonium nitrate, the chemical that caused the West Fertilizer Co. disaster, is not a listed substance under RMP, but the chemicals used in its production are, as well as certain processes that use ammonium nitrate. The Center for Effective Government report pulls together EPA information on facilities that report under RMP along with school location information from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“The number of children who are potentially in harm’s way is deeply troubling,” Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the center, said in a statement.
The center has called for tougher standards for disclosing the presence of chemicals, more oversight and more expansive emergency response planning. It is also calling for inherently safer chemicals and processes whenever possible. The federal government is still in the process of creating policies to respond to last year’s explosion; representatives from a number of agencies released a list of proposals in January.

The report is packaged as an interactive map and also uses U.S. Census Bureau data to show the racial and economic profile of residents in the area around the chemical facilities. Users can search the map by school name, city or state.

This article has been edited to clarify that ammonium nitrate is not specifically listed in the EPA Risk Management Plan rule, but chemicals used in its production are.

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Childhood Leukemia Associated With Traffic

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Studies reviewed by the CDC suggest “that childhood leukemia is associated with residential traffic exposure during the postnatal period, but not during the prenatal period. Read more.

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States target toxic chemicals as Washington fails to act

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By Ronnie Greene for The Center forPublic Integrity

In Vermont, the Senate has just passed a bill potentially empowering the Green Mountain State to ban chemicals it deems harmful to consumers. Some 3,000 miles away, in Washington State, environmental reformers weren’t as successful: A bill to ban six toxic flame retardants died in the Senate, beaten back by industry opposition and politicians’ cries of state overreaching.

In state capitols from Maine to Oregon, environmental advocates are filing bills to identify and ban noxious chemicals and industry groups are fighting back with pointed rebukes and high-pitched lobbying. Toxic reform legislation is either breathing with new life or being extinguished altogether.

The toxics tug-of-war in state houses is direct fallout from the muddled environmental politicking of Washington, D.C.

In 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, a federal framework intended to safeguard the public from dangerous chemicals. Yet in the nearly four decades since, TSCA, as it is known, has done little more than gather dust. Among tens of thousands of chemicals in commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency has “only been able to require testing on a little more than 200 existing chemicals,” and banned five, the EPA told The Center for Public Integrity.

Everyone wants to revamp TSCA — from the industry’s $100 million lobbying arm, the American Chemistry Council, to the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, to the EPA itself.

Yet three years to the month since the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg proposed sweeping change through the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, the TSCA overhaul remains in the works, with proposals, counter-proposals and criticismsabout the working draft’s fine print.

Fed up with logjams in D.C., state legislators are filing hundreds of measures in their own states to do what the federal government hasn’t — take action against destructive chemicals, by singling out the most dangerous toxins and seeking to remove them from shelves.

While the political smoke continues in Washington, the chemical reform fire is playing out in statehouses from Montpelier to Olympia.

At least 442 bills involving toxics and chemicals have been filed in 2014, or refiled from previous sessions, covering 39 states, according to an environmental health legislation database maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures. A year earlier, 399 such bills were filed and the year before that, the database shows, more than 500.

“There’s only so much you will say, ‘We can wait and see. It will be great if the feds do something.’ I think people are losing patience,” said Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency for Natural Resources.

As the Center for Public Integrity reported last year, the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups fight nearly every state measure, contending that a patchwork of state laws would do more harm than good, and that true change should come through TSCA. The industry’s statehouse pushback, fueled by a chemical advocacy group that spends tens of millions of lobbying dollars along with making political campaign donations, has helped beat back hundreds of state bills in recent years.

Vermont’s Johnson is among the state officials who understand the argument that having multitudes of differing state laws “is not the way to go.” Yet in his state, as in others, the argument of waiting for Congress to act has grown stale.

“I’ve been personally to the statehouse here in Vermont for five years in a row. ‘Let’s wait and see what the feds do,’” said Johnson, who serves on the Environmental Council of the States, a nonpartisan association of state leaders. “It’s getting pretty old.”

Bills filed, and fought, from Vermont to Washington State

Last week in Vermont, the Senate approved Senate Bill 239, which would allow the state Department of Health to “identify and publish a list of chemicals of high concern,” following the lead of states such as Washington and Maine. The bill would require manufacturers of products using such chemicals to notify the state, “and to replace the chemical with a safer alternative.”

“Given where we are with the toxics reform at the federal level; given that we haven’t seen movement there; and given that we have over 60,000 chemicals that haven’t been adequately tested for their effect on public health, this is the way to begin,” the bill sponsor, Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, told a Vermont news website.

The bill must clear the House before becoming law.

As in other states, the toxics legislation faces opposition from industry, with lobbyists describing it as another piece in a patchwork of state laws across the U.S.

The Toy Industry Association, a trade group composed of 700 members, has gone on record opposing the bill, citing what it views as a “flawed scientific approach” as the basis for the measure, and the “immense cost to businesses” and the state.

“TIA commends the bill sponsors for their keen interest in the safety of children. We share that interest, and our industry is founded on the mission of bringing fun and joy to children’s lives,” the association wrote Vermont legislators.

“However, we have serious concerns regarding Senate Bill 239 as it does not consider the existing robust safety system for toys sold in this country — including federal regulation and international standards — and will create unnecessary burden on companies doing business in Vermont with arguably no measurable increase in safety.”

In Washington State, industry opposition helped quash the Toxic-Free Kids & Families Act. The measure would have banned six flame retardants on the state’s list of “Chemicals of High Concern for Children” — and put the onus on manufacturers to replace them with safer chemicals.

Sen. Sharon Nelson, a Democrat who has pushed toxics legislation for several years in Washington State, is among the legislators weary of waiting for the federal government to act. “We haven’t seen the changes at the federal level,” she said. “Ultimately the science will prevail, but it’s hard.”

As they had in previous sessions, the Association of Washington Business and the American Chemistry Council pushed back against the flame retardants bill, officially filing opposition to the proposal.

The bill died in the state Senate.

“I’ve seen every time we go into this across the nation, the chemistry council comes in behind the scenes and does a good job about casting questions: Should we be doing this at the state level? They’ve done a good job of just constantly either trying to water down the bills or kill them,” Senator Nelson said. “They’ve been effective. They are well-heeled lobbyists.”

Republican State Sen. Doug Ericksen, chair of the Washington legislature’s Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, said the bill as proposed was problematic, putting too much power in the hands of a state agency to potentially ban chemicals.

Ericksen said he proposed a compromise measure but Democrats didn’t go along. Sen. Nelson said that measure was watered down to ban chemicals already being phased out.

In a broader sense, Sen. Ericksen echoes the industry’s biggest complaint with state bills. “The issue you get into is creating an island in Washington State,” Ericksen said. “I would say it doesn’t help for Washington State to have a go it alone mentality.”

Brandon Housekeeper, an Association of Washington Business government affairs official, used the same phrasing as Ericksen in describing his group’s opposition, asking “Whether Washington should act alone as an island and ban chemicals used in commerce.”

Housekeeper said the AWB, which describes itself as the state’s “premiere advocate for the business community” representing 8,000 members, helped Ericksen create the alternate bill. “Just an out and out ban in these things in their use didn’t seem appropriate, so we proposed a different path to get to that result,” Housekeeper said.

How effective was the industry effort? “I think the opponents of the legislation obviously had some voice and hand in how legislators reacted to the legislation. Because I think we asked valid questions,” Housekeeper said.

The AWB’s slogan: “We mean business.” Ericksen said he listens to industry and “all different points of view.”

“The industry groups are not necessarily opposed to eliminating these harmful chemicals from these product lines,” he said. “They just find it difficult when they are mandated to be included in one state and mandated to be prohibited in another state.”

More state battles: Oregon, Connecticut, Maine

Legislators in other states have also filed bills this session to identify and remove unsafe chemicals. In state after state, the legislation encounters strong industry pushback, with critics working capitol hallways to douse reform proposals.

“Even if these bills don’t pass, it’s raising awareness,” said Oregon Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, who for several years has proposed a bill that would, like Washington State’s, create a state list of high priority chemicals for children’s health.

Again this year, the bill was shot down. “The industry fought it very hard,” the Oregon legislator said.

Creating lists of dangerous chemicals can make a difference, Keny-Guyer believes. “If companies see they are showing up in these things, there’s much more incentive for them to find safer chemicals,” she said.

In many states, getting from proposal to approved bill is a steep climb.

In Connecticut, advocates are again trying to win approval for a bill allowing the state to compile and maintain a list of harmful chemicals. Supporters crafted the bill so it would not cost the state government a penny.

That same measure was pitched in 2013 but failed when the proposal was talked to death by a committee and never came to a vote.

“We really feel like we’re doing everything we can to kind of build momentum, but we’re not resting on anything at this point. I know that the industry is continuing to fight the bill on a daily basis,” said Anne Hulick, coordinator for the nonprofit Coalition for a Safe & Healthy Connecticut. “I’m worried the opposition is building and we don’t see it.”

The lack of an updated TSCA is a “really big factor,” she said, in why states like Connecticut need their own laws to target hazardous chemicals.

In Maine, advocates are pushing legislation in a state where the Republican governor last year vetoed a bill intended to protect pregnant women and children from harmful chemicals, and where the head of the Department of Environmental Protection is a former lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council. A spokeswoman for the Maine DEP’s director, Patricia Aho, said any potential conflicts had been “thoroughly vetted” before she took office in 2011. The governor’s office said he vetoed bills that were “not good policy.”

This year’s toxic reform push is a direct offshoot of the languishing pace of TSCA overhaul in D.C.

“It’s huge,” said Beth Ahearn, political director for the Maine Conservation Voters. “It creates all the reason we’ve decided to go ahead on our own, because we cannot wait for TSCA reform.”

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Healthy Child Safer Pregnancy

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Women thinking about having a baby should read this new book for ways to keep you and your child safe from chemical exposures.

http://healthychild.org/saferpregnancyebook/

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Carson, CA Wins Moratorium On Fracking

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Two hundred wells near homes and school held at bay by an emergency moratorium on all new drilling.  Read more.

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Pesticides Harm Children’s Brains

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A study has detected developmental problems in children born to mothers who toiled in California’s treated fields.
Read more.

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Water Contamination by Fracking Confirmed

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As the first official research is published that confirms water contamination by hydraulic fracturing, an alarming amount and array of hazardous chemicals and compounds – including arsenic, chloride, barium and radium – are found in Pennsylvania groundwater. Read more.

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Enough is Enough President Obama

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Somehow the American people have to find a way to give President Obama a wake up call.  It’s getting so bad that it’s seems like a new disaster every single week, because or no regulations, or no enforcement, no one caring what happening to people, to families who work, play and pray in this country.  I’d love to hear some ideas about how we can help Obama hear the alarms.  It’s just too much. It’s like going back in time when river caught fire, clouds of smoke filled the air and people living in industrial areas did not live very long lives. Today the rivers don’t burn but do run full of chemicals that if you touch it your skin would burn. The sky is not black with smoke it brown with dust storms because of the poor usage of water an climate changes. People of low wealth who live in the extraction zones are sick and dying at an alarming rate.  Let’s just look at the last several recent crisis.

  • West Virginia chemical spill sent a clear message about the dangers of extraction industries and it’s not over just because the media is no longer covering the problem. People still have chemicals in their air of their homes and some in the water pipes. Schools are still being closed because of vapors.
  • Soon after the West Virginia spill came the North Carolina spill of coal wastes? That too is far from being over. Clean up is going to take years to restore the river.
  • This week came the five confirmed earthquakes that have hit the Mahoning Valley in Ohio within a 25-hour period. The Columbia University’s Earth Observatory said there have been actually 11 shocks in the area in one week, from March 4 to 10.
  • We’re not done yet, a new story about radioactive wastes and fracking made headlines when Rachel Maddow detailed the highly radioactive wastes being illegally dump on Native American lands and abandoned buildings in North Dakota.
  • Workers have found more nuclear waste leaking between the walls of a nuclear storage tank on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The waste was found in a new place between the walls of one of the 28 double shell tanks at the site.
  • And today as I write this someone sent me a picture of a wall of dust as tall as 1,000 feet and 200 miles wide that roared across parts of West Texas and New Mexico due to the lack of rain and water.  Yet Texas continues to allow fracking which requires million and millions of gallon of water.

These are the stories that made headlines.  Behind those headlines are rural farmers with contaminated well water from hydro-fracturing; household family pets and live stock getting sick and dying because of gas and oil processes.  Children, women and men gasping for air due to pollution. Our federal oversight agencies, the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and Center for Disease Control have let all Americans down — turned their backs on the people they are suppose to protect . . .well all Americans except the industries involved in extreme energy.

Enough is enough. So many people’s lives, livelihoods, property and futures have been destroyed with so little regard from the very government agencies that are responsible for protecting, the American people.

When the events in West Virginia came to light, I as a non-scientists knew that just not drinking and bathing in the toxic water was not enough. The chemicals evaporate into the air and every toilet was a point source of toxic vapors. Boiling water after the pipes were flushed was yet another hazards as along with the bacteria was residue chemicals. As the water vapor rose from the boiling water so too did the chemicals into the air of unsuspecting families with small children, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. One resident calling CHEJ’s offices talked about all the homes that were elevated on top of a hill still had water and air that smelt like licorice. Her concern was that homes and schools that were located on a hill somehow weren’t flushed properly. That same day two schools were evacuated because the children were experiencing health related symptoms. Both schools were on elevated land.

I’m not sure what it is we can do. I would love ideas from you. Recently, more than 1,000 doctors and nurses wrote to President Obama urging him to stop shale gas extraction pending detailed study of its health effects. Many others have asked to revoke the exemptions clean water, air and so on fracking. Stop the exports of gas and coal was another message to Obama with a positive angle America could really become energy independent.

Let’s explore what we all might do to get the Presidents attention. All of us are in this struggle together and it is together that we will find the answer.

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Walmart Tackling Toxic Chemicals-Will Their Suppliers Listen?

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By Mike Schade, Mind The Store Campaign Director

Small_489771072Yesterday, Walmart announced a major update to their corporate chemicals policy with the release of their new Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide, sending a strong message to suppliers, competing retailers and the chemical industry that toxic chemicals that build up in our bodies linked to cancer, birth defects and learning disabilities have no place in products sold on store shelves.

(Photo Credit: Ron Dauphin via photopin cc)

This is big news, as our Mind the Store campaign has been challenging Walmart and the other top ten US retailers to eliminate the Hazardous 100+ chemicals of high concern from their products.  Yesterday, we responded to the new announcement with this statement.  We congratulate Walmart on expanding their chemicals policy with the release of this new implementation guide.   The million dollar question is – will their suppliers listen?  How will Walmart ensure suppliers actually comply with this important new policy? Here, we take a look at some of the more exciting elements of the expanded policy, as well as some initial thoughts on how the policy can be improved.

Raising the bar for disclosure of chemicals of concern

ShoppingArguably the most exciting elements of Walmart’s policy center on online and product-level disclosure.  We are especially pleased that Walmart will now be requiring suppliers to disclose the presence of toxic chemicals of concern business-to-business through the Wercs, publicly on company websites, and even on product labels (!) beginning in January 2018.   This new requirement should not only provide incentives for manufactures to reduce or eliminate the use of “priority” chemicals, to avoid having to list them on products, but also empower moms and dads to make smarter and healthier shopping choices for their families. The company is also attempting to address chemicals like fragrances, which most companies virtually never disclose.  They recommend that disclosure should include “full disclosure of all ingredients including those typically protected under trade secrets (e.g. fragrances)” as well as “known residuals, contaminants and by-products”.

The question is – will suppliers listen – and how will Walmart actually ensure fragrances and other additives are actually publicly disclosed?

Expanding “Priority” list of chemicals – but what are their top ten?

Walmart is still not disclosing the names of these chemicals for “business reasons”

This past fall, Walmart announced their new chemicals policy and were going to be prioritizing a list of ten chemicals as an initial list of “high priority” chemicals for “continuous reduction, restriction and elimination”, yet the company never disclosed the names of these chemicals.   Unfortunately, Walmart is still not disclosing the names of these chemicals for “business reasons and state that these ten chemicals are “based on (a) authoritative lists, (b) current and pending regulatory lists, (c) high prevalence in Walmart products, and (d) concerns of direct exposure to consumers.” So that leaves about 2 or 3,000 chemicals to choose from.  Hmmmm, any guesses as to what ones they may be?  We are disappointed that Walmart has still not disclosed their initial ten “high priority” chemicals, despite public pledges to do so.  In the interest of transparency, we call on Walmart to reconsider their decision to not disclose these “high priority” chemicals.  After all, American families have the right to know.

On the positive side, Walmart has announced a brand new set of “Walmart Priority Chemicals”, which is comprised of no less than twenty of the most important authoritative lists in the US and internationally identifying chemicals of high concern, such as California Proposition 65, US EPA PBT and chemical action plan chemicals, and the states of Washington and Maine chemicals, demonstrating the significance of state action on chemicals.  We are very pleased that this list includes every single one of the lists we referenced on our Hazardous 100 list, and many more.  While the company did not identify the actually chemicals on these lists, you don’t have to work so hard to find them. This could very well likely include thousands of chemicals, though right now it’s somewhat unclear if every single one of the substances on these lists are included, or not.  By comparison, Target’s policy and list is also very significant, with over 1,000 substances.

Reducing, restricting and eliminating toxic chemicals

Walmart is now calling on suppliers to, reduce, restrict and eliminate these substances.  The policy states that suppliers should:

“Reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists, which will be made public, to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy…. All suppliers are expected to reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists (made publicly available through Appendix 1) to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy.”

Tracking reduction of chemicals of concern

they will send an e-mail to each supplier indicating which products contain “high priority chemicals”

The company is using the Wercs database/website to notify suppliers when products they sell contain either a “Walmart Priority Chemical” or “Walmart High Priority Chemical”.  Using the Wercs system, they will send an e-mail to each supplier indicating which products contain “high priority chemicals” and in the future, any time a product entered contains a “priority” or “high priority” chemical, the supplier will automatically be notified.  They will also use the Wercs database to track the number of priority chemicals in products, as well as their reduction, using various metrics including quantifying reductions by weight, number of products, number of suppliers, and sales volume.

The company also plans to publicly report their progress on transparency, advancing safer formulation of products and DfE certification in the company’s 2016 Global Responsibility Report.

Getting off the toxic treadmill

Another significant element of their expanded policy is that Walmart is for the first time encouraging their suppliers to get off the toxic treadmill, and avoid “regrettable substitution” by evaluating the hazards of replacement chemicals and embracing best in class “informed substitution” and  “alternatives assessment” principles.   Walmart states:

“Informed substitution is the considered transition from a chemical of particular concern to safer chemicals or non-chemical alternatives [1]. Using informed substitution principles will mitigate hazard risks associated with product formulation and achieve compliance with Walmart’s Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables…In the aim of advancing safer formulated products and promoting informed substitution, Walmart recommends the major tenets of Alternatives Assessment, a process for identifying, comparing and selecting safer alternatives to priority chemicals (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of their hazards, performance, and economic viability[1][2]…”

In their guide, they cite many great resources, such as the Pharos Chemical and Material Library, BizNGO’s Chemical Alternatives Assessment Protocol, and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production’s  Alternatives Assessment Protocol. It’ll be interesting to see whether suppliers listen, and use these useful tools.  It’s not easy, but it can be done.

What’s good for our pets is good for our children

4103103448_982ca1cc4c_mThe policy impacts a number of categories of products sold at Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores in the US, primarily cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products, infant products, and pet supplies.  This is a good list of products to start with, and we hope Walmart will expand this over time to all other categories where chemicals of high concern are often found, such as children’s toys, apparel, furniture, electronics, and food packaging.

(Photo Credit: rumpleteaser via photopin cc)

We also hope Walmart will expand this policy to their stores globally.  As a company that has enormous power and influence over their supply chain, if they can do it in the US, why not the rest of the world? Families worldwide deserve the same protections.

Will other retailers Mind the Store?

Today’s new announcement should be a call to action to other big box retailers, grocery stores, and drug store chains.  We call on the other leading top ten retailers to join Walmart to Mind the Store and get tough on toxic chemicals.   After all, with great market power comes great responsibility.

We look forward to working with Walmart and the other nine leading retailers to create similar action plans on the Hazardous 100+ list of toxic chemicals in the months to come.

Join us and share this good news with your friends.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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Birth defects, diseases, tax payers dollars spent for health care and enormous resistance to policies that prevent disease.

Sen. Chris Edwards, from Eugene, Oregon introduced the legislation this year and said he would support the amended legislation. “As the father of a 12-year-old with autism, I’m particularly sensitive to issues such as toxicity and how environmental toxicity can affect neurological developments and the growth of children’s brains,” he said. “At the end of the day for me, I just have to wonder why it is we’re punting on this issue year after year after year when we know incidents of neurological and developmental disorders are up, and we know these toxic chemicals put children at risk.”

Health care spending in the U.S. has surged more than eightfold since the 1960s. Skyrocketing in that same time frame are rates of chronic disease, use of synthetic chemicals, and evidence that many of these widely used substances may be wreaking havoc on human health. “We know that these chemicals are reaching people. We know that chemicals can cause disease and those diseases cost money,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. New research published offers an example of this financial burden, widely overlooked in the health care debate. The use of bisphenol A, or BPA, in food and beverage containers, according to the study, is responsible for an estimated $3 billion a year in costs associated with childhood obesity and adult heart disease.

In Colorado a recently study demonstrated that babies born near gas wells had children with birth defects including heart defects. I find this interesting because many, many years ago women in the Silicon Valley area also found that children in the neighborhood were born with birth defects of their hearts. In this case it was women sitting in a park and talking with each other that they recognized the cluster of heart defects. Years later a study demonstrated that it was chemicals, used in the high tech industry, got into their well water that was responsible for the clustering of birth defected babies. History repeating itself but it’s not just history these are children’s lives and the future workforce of America.

I’ve sat in the living rooms of families with children dying from cancer, gasping for air due to asthma and unable to speak because of learning disabilities. I’ve seen the pain in parents’ eyes and the frustration in getting answers or resolution to the environmental health risks. Now with the explosion of gas drilling everywhere and the reports of health effects I feel so angry.

So, instead of arguing about how taxpayers will pay for the national health care program, or if the contaminated water or air made some child ill, let’s argue about how to prevent disease especially in children. Our children are helpless and depend on us to keep them safe.