Advocate Spotlight

Advocate Spotlight


The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and their colleagues released their October 2013 Committee Opinion, Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents, advising health care providers “to alert patients regarding avoidance of toxic exposures” and “join leading scientists and other clinical practitioners in calling for timely action to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents while addressing the consequences of such exposure “. In response, the chemical industry, represented by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) states, “current environmental regulations offer enough consumer protection, and that the new report will create ‘confusion and alarm among expectant mothers’ and distract them from proven steps for a healthy pregnancy.”

Who would belittle women and state that expectant mothers would be confused and alarmed by medical advice? ACC. Who would disagree with leading medical organizations who advocate for policy changes to chemical regulations? ACC. ACC, representing industry giants like Dow Chemical, Dupont, and Exxon Mobil, has been instrumental in blocking and delaying an overdue update to federal and state chemical regulations for years. According to the report, Toxic Spending: The Political Expenditure of the Chemical Industry, 2005-2012, by the non-profit, Common Cause, “The chemical industry’s successful campaign to prevent Congress from strengthening the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)-which has not been updated since it was passed in 1976-has been accompanied by a growing surge in political expenditures… from 2005 through June 2012 it spent $333 million on lobbying at the federal level”. If this information was common knowledge, the public would have a better understanding of why we continue to be contaminated without consent with persistent, bioaccumulative, endocrine disrupting, and carcinogenic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), flame retardants, and formaldehyde.

Can you imagine the difference in outcome if $333 million was spent to reform, strengthen, and enforce TSCA? Instead, Common Cause’s report states, the chemical industry’s “three avenues of influence-campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, and political advertising- have played an important part in the industry’s campaign to convince lawmakers and voters that the environmental and public health benefits of strengthening TSCA and other regulations would be outweighed by economic costs.”

Unfortunately for all of us, to safeguard profits and control of the status quo, ACC discredits scientific studies, campaigns aggressively to prevent chemicals from being listed in the federal Report on Carcinogens, delays progress of legislative action on the federal and state level, rejects consumer demands to replace toxins with safer alternatives, and now refutes the opinion of our doctors. While ACC spent this $333 million on lobbying, the economic cost of not reforming TSCA is reflected in the increase in diseases and soaring health care costs. Environmental injustices invade our neighborhoods, our bodies, and the well being of our ecosystem.Today, a woman’s lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. is approximately 1 in 8. That is up from 1 in 11 in 1971. Massachusetts has the 12th highest breast cancer incidence rates in the country, approximately 5.8% higher than the national average. 

The recent tripartite effort of Republicans, Democrats, and the chemical industry to reform TSCA with the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 fails to correct serious flaws in our existing policy. The July 31st, 2013 Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on TSCA reform did not provide a framework for a comprehensive, federal policy that would protect us from contaminants, nor provide any real protection for our health.  

Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) calls for ACC to be responsible in their use of chemicals and prioritization of safer alternatives to known or suspected carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. If there is indication of harm, we ask that chemicals be pragmatically replaced. We ask that the manufacturing, transportation, and use of chemicals have higher environmental standards. We look for a future where infants do not carry a burden of hazardous industrial chemicals passed along through their umbilical cord. We seek a future free from the ball and chain of diseases like breast cancer. 

Slowly but surely, consumer demands and a movement toward safer alternatives to toxic chemicals is replacing antiquated business as usual. Just this September, Proctor & Gamble announced that they will stop using two toxic chemicals, diethyl phthalate (DEP) and triclosan, in personal care products. That same month, Wal-Mart stated that ‘it will require its suppliers to phase out about 10 hazardous chemicals from personal care products, cosmetics and cleaning products sold in its stores’. These are clear and definite steps in the right direction but progress is slow and incremental. When TSCA was passed in 1976, over 65,000 chemicals were “grandfathered in” and remained on the market without full safety testing. Today, out of over 84,000 chemicals registered for use, only about 200 have been adequately tested. We cannot proceed at a “product by product” pace as the rate of chronic disease and health care costs rise.

As decade after decade passes with ACC rebutting peer review science studies, dismissing federal science reports, delaying needed chemical regulations, suppressing consumer knowledge, and spending millions on lobbying, demand is building for a world in which toxic chemicals are not found in our homes, workplaces, schools, playgrounds, and everyday products on sale at the corner store. We are not looking to go back to the 12th century with the removal of modern conveniences made possibly by synthetic chemicals, we just want to make sure there is a 22nd century.  We want a reformed, strengthened, and enforced Toxic Substances Control Act so we can move forward with safer choices. We want a future where public health, ecosystem health, and the health of future generations are a priority.

Submitted by Margo Simon Golden, President of the Board of Directors of MBCC