Time to Yell Fire! How the Government is Failing to Regulate the Toxins Harming Our Kids

Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.  In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead. 

These past few weeks I've been voraciously reading The Textbook of Environmental Health. Yes, I've just outed myself – I actually do read textbooks, cover to cover sometimes, like with this one, for “fun.” Dr. Philip Landrigan, the lead editor and author of this text, is one of the most respected pediatric environmental medicine doctors in the country. He helped get the lead out of our kids' lives, literally, by exposing its harm and helping to create policies that protect children from lead exposure. Did you know that the average IQ of kids in the US was actually 5 points lower until the 1990s due to chronic lead exposure? He helped change that. Landrigan's worthy co-author is Dr. Ruth Etzel, the scientist who revealed the harm of second-hand smoke to kids.

This textbook highlights the failure of the federal government, including the EPA, to protect our children by not following through on mandates for safety testing on most of the industrial and agricultural chemicals to which our children are exposed. But this article is not a book review; it's an expose and a call to action.

62,000 Toxic Chemicals & Failed Legislation

The Toxic Substance Control Act (TCSA), passed in 1976, is the US federal law that regulates industrial and consumer chemicals – the thousands of synthetic chemicals in use that are not intended to be used in medication, cosmetics, foods, or pesticides. At the time this law was passed, the Environmental Protection Agency was charged with creating an inventory of all existing chemicals, which were then to be tested for safety. At that time there were already about 62,000 existing chemicals. Rather than being tested, however, they were “presumed safe” and were “grandfathered in.”

Only 5 chemicals have been banned under the TSCA in over 35 years. Yes 5! Do you find that as shocking as I do?

The EPA has otherwise been entirely unable to require testing on, regulate, or remove any of the remaining chemicals from the marketplace. Only a few states in the US – California, New York, and Massachusetts among them – have state laws relevant to children’s environmental health. California put legislation in place so that by 2012, 1200 chemicals identified by the EPA were to be regulated; NY, MA, and CA require commercial pesticide applicators and farmers to report pesticide application to the state, and CT has banned BPA use in carbonless receipts from banks and retail stores due to its risk of absorption and potential harm to offspring when childbearing women who handle these regularly at work are exposed.

Of the over 80,000 chemicals now in use in the US, it is clear that many are harmful to human physical and neurological development. Exposure at various vulnerable times during pregnancy, infancy, early childhood, and even through the teenage years when the lungs, endocrine, and nervous systems are still developing, can result in the same health problems increasing amongst our children including those I mentioned earlier. Because of their surface area-to- body weight ratio and immature detoxification abilities, most toxins impact children's health harder than they do us grown ups.

Yelling “Fire!”

Recently, while working on the course content for the Eco-Immunity lesson for Healthy All Year, my new online program on boosting children’s immunity and treating common childhood health symptoms naturally, I was reading some facts out to my husband about the significantly increased rates of health problems our kids are facing. My husband is a gracious sounding board. He generally listens well and gives me honest feedback.

“Babe, do you think this info is going to be too scary for moms to read?” he asked me.

“Well, I don't want to scare moms, but here’s the thing…do you yell fire when you see smoke? Or do you wait until the house is burning down?” I replied.

I continued, “I think the house is on fire, and someone needs to be telling moms the truth, so we can do our best to put it out! Think about it, when our kids were little, ADHD was a new term. Few of us knew a family with a child with autism. Think of all the families we know now whose kids are struggling with ADHD diagnoses, how many patients I treat with autism, and how many kids I see with asthma, allergies, food intolerances, eczema, anxiety, depression, obesity, autoimmune diseases, early puberty, and so much more. There's really a problem going on – and getting worse!”

By the end of our conversation, he was fully on board for the full truth to be told about the magnitude of risks our children are facing from toxic environmental chemical exposures, and the fact that our government is failing to protect us.

I know this is scary stuff. I promise that I don't mean to be scary. That’s the last thing I want to do. But I’ve got daughters and a daughter-in-law in their childbearing years, and two young grandchildren I want to protect, so I want to know this stuff. I’m sharing the same information with you that I think should be available to them.

We cannot assume that just because chemicals are in common trade and usage that they have been evaluated for safety by our government or any other scientific board, nor that they have been approved. Most are not and have not. We’re strong women who can face the the truth and do something strong and positive and powerful with it to protect our kids, our neighbor’s kids, and kids in other countries who are still getting exposed to those same chemicals that have been banned for use in our country.

We've got to take matters into our own hands and be the CEOs of our family's health!

What You Can Do to Protect Your Children from Environmental Toxins

1. Optimize nutrition

Great nutrition has two key benefits – eating natural foods with as little packaging and as few additives, colorings, pesticides, and herbicides as possible reduces chemical exposures for our kids (even after just 5 days of switching to mostly organic produce, kids' blood levels of toxic agricultural chemicals go way down). Also good nutrition boosts our natural ability to detoxify environmental toxins. I recommend that kids get at least two brightly colored fruits or vegetables at each meal (think carrots, blueberries, squash, for example). Healthy All Year has an entire section of lessons dedicated to teaching you how to use nutrition to boost your child's immunity and support natural  detoxification. You’ll also learn which supplements you can use  to enhance detoxification naturally and safely, without breaking the bank!

2. Get Educated & Reduce Exposures

Knowing which industrial, household, and personal products (i.e., shampoos, lotions, sunscreens) are most toxic is key protecting your child’s health. You also need to know which are the healthier alternatives. I am a huge fan of The Environmental Working Group, which has recently merged with Healthy Child, Healthy World, another of my favorite environmental advocacy groups. Other advocacy groups I love are my friend Robyn O’Brien’s Allergy Kids, and Beth Lambert’s Epidemic Answers. And you can join me as a student in Healthy All Year, my newest online course, where I take you through doing a home audit for optimal children’s health and teach you which products to avoid and which are safest to use.

3. Don't be Afraid to be Called “Mean Mommy” and Other Names

Yes, my kids called me “mean mommy” because I refused to let them wear the cool pajamas their friends were wearing – the ones treated with flame retardant chemicals. Now, 25 or so years later, the data is unequivocal. Flame retardants are seriously hazardous to our health, and more so to young children whose exposures far outweigh our own, and in whom exposures at critical times may have a detrimental impact on immunity, hormones (including those that impact obesity), and neurological health. While we want our kids to live comfortably in the world, and not make life feel too restrictive, how comfortable is obesity or a hormone problem, really? It's our job to be parents and that means keeping our kids out of harm's way when we can, even if it makes us temporarily unpopular. Besides, now my kids thank me. Yours will, too.  It just may not be until they are adults!

4. Speak Up

It’s amazing what powerful mothers have accomplished in making policy changes in their children’s environments from toxic paints and toxic foods in schools to environmental dumping, fracking, and chemical waste plant leaks. Creating a coalition of moms in your community is no small task, but clearly, the government isn’t going to clean this problem up for us, so we’ve got to be activists for our children's health! Talk to school officials, school boards, and legislators about issues in your community.

Rally, hassle, be the squeaky wheel, get loud, yell fire!

To your health, and your children's,




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Jenna Houston

Brave warrior momma, !! thanks for being the squeeky wheel and yelling fire!!. As a midwife, who wants to prevent toxic exposures in the mothers I work with...as a mother and grandmother....I have been sounding the alarm, even though it's not popular. for yrs now...largely from what I have learned from you (and paying attention) and Women's Voices for the Earth, great resource. Thanks for your attention and sharing....and for willing yell FIRE..


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Here's a scary thought. While commercial growers have to tell the state when and where they apply pesticides there are NO regulations at all for homeowners to report their pesticide use. I have personally seen guys outside "spraying the weeds" with no protective gear and all over their yards. So there's still along way to go on the issue of pesticides.