Pediatricians, Child Advocates Call for Passage of Safe Chemicals Act

Vidushi Sinha

The American Academy of Pediatrics says revisions must be made in the current federal regulations that protect children from the potentially dangerous chemicals now present in foods, toys and household products. The group's call has sparked a groundswell of public support for Congress to pass new, more stringent legislation.

Hollywood actress and mother Jessica Alba was among a crowd of supporters who rallied at the U.S. Capitol urging passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, a revision of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.  Alba is a spokeswoman for the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, one of many citizen-activist groups that converged on Washington as part of a two-day lobbying effort.

Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced the bill in April.  If passed, the law would ban toxic chemicals in consumer products and put in place stricter health-based criteria for new-chemical approvals.

The bill also recognizes children's unique vulnerability to toxic chemicals.

A growing number of studies indicate that toxic chemicals are major causes of disease and dysfunction in children.

Senator Lautenberg says the risk of doing nothing has become far too great..

“It's dangerous and it's unacceptable," he said. "We are working to pass my 'safe chemicals act' which will require chemical manufacturers to prove that their products are safe.”

Children are at greater risk from toxic chemicals than adults because of their lower body weight, in proportion to the amounts of chemicals in the air, food, and water. Their tendencies to put things into their mouths and to play on the ground increase their exposure.

Pediatricians say it is difficult to measure precisely how the thousands of known chemicals in the environment might affect children’s development.  As a result, says pediatrician Leo Trasande, the best way forward is to be cautious, and strictly regulate the presence of chemicals that kids may be exposed to:

“In our current 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, chemicals have an 'innocent until proven guilty' approach taken and essentially EPA doesn’t have the power to hold the chemicals back and make sure that there are no health concerns before allowing the chemicals to be released into the environment," he said. "So what occurs is a dangerous experiment on our children and families as well.”

Pediatricians say during the early stages of child development, exposure to even tiny doses of toxic chemicals can not only disrupt organ formation but also
cause lifelong disabilities. Children also lack the enzymes needed to break down and remove toxic chemicals from their bodies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the call for stricter regulation, especially for  those chemicals that have already raised public health concerns.

Dr. Robert Block is the Academy's president:

“We are trying to look at laws that would regulate monitoring of chemicals in products and not making products available to the general public that contain dangerous elements or dangerous amounts of certain elements that might be toxic," he said.

Julie Stradquist, the mother of a child with autism, says she will do whatever it takes to get the Safer Chemicals Act passed because, she says, this affects everybody.

“I flew from Washington state, took a couple of planes and I am here because I feel so strongly for this message," she said.

Supporters of the new legislation say they recognize that the interests of the chemical industry must be taken into the balance. But lawmakers, medical experts, and industry representatives agree that the balance must always tip in favor of public health and safety.

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