What my daughter wants (and deserves) for her birthday: A toxic-free future

Tomorrow, August 11th, is my daughter Olivia’s birthday. My almost second-grader, who just finished reading the second  Harry Potter book, is turning seven. It’s hard to believe. Tomorrow we’ll celebrate this milestone in the presence of family, give her gifts, and enjoy the Brune birthday staple: ice cream cake.

But today, while the rest of our family frolics in the sand at the Jersey shore, my daughter and I will travel two and a half hours by train to New York City to join other mothers and children in celebrating another important event: The National Stroller Brigade Day of Action in support of The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. The New York event is one of several taking place across the country, to either thank senators for being—or encourage them to become—a co-sponsor of this important chemical reform legislation.  In New York, we will be thanking both Senators Gillibrand and Schumer for their early formal support for these common sense reforms.  Senator Gillibrand, as another concerned mom, has been increasingly active around the need to better protect our children and has played a leading role in this effort.

As kids, my two sisters and I were exposed to pesticides that were sprayed to control mosquitoes in our town. If I close my eyes, I can still conjure the acrid smell of the showers that rained down on us as we chased the truck around the streets in our neighborhood. At the time, we had no idea what we were doing could harm our health. Fast-forward thirty years and those innocent romps behind the “bug truck” have indeed left their mark: multiple miscarriages for me, one sister with fibroids and a hysterectomy at thirty-three, and another unable to conceive. Turns out that what we don’t know about toxic chemicals can indeed hurt us.

That’s why we need serious chemical policy reform. The burden to prove a chemical causes cancer or disease should not be placed on the individual. Why wait decades, after a chemical has polluted our air, poisoned our water, and infiltrated our food supply before we stop using it? Chemical companies should be required to ensure that their products are safe before they are allowed to be used in commerce. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?

Some reading this might wonder why I’ve whisked my daughter away from the sandcastle-building and shell-collecting freedom of her beach vacation to the thick city air and busy subways ofManhattan. That’s a fair question. Truth be told, I questioned the reasoning myself.

When it comes down to it, we’re doing it because I want her to see what she created. Without her, I wouldn’t be a mother. Without her, I would never have learned six and a half years ago that toxins in our environment were making their way into our bodies and into mothers’ milk. I might never have developed the keen sense of outrage I feel when I hear about mercury in our air, perchlorate in our water, lead in our toys, and phthalates in our shampoo. I might never have known how strong a mother’s drive to protect her family can be, nor how powerful mothers’ voices are when raised in unison to demand change.

At seven, Olivia already understands why eating organic food is the right choice, and willingly surrenders holiday presents for lead testing without complaint. She glares with disapproval at the black smoke billowing out of factory smokestacks. Like any parent who hopes that their children will grow up to share their ideals, I admit I feel some swell of pride in my heart on such occasions. But I also feel regret. When I was Olivia’s age I was cruising around town on my bike without a care in the world; I wish her the same carefree existence. Kids shouldn’t have to wonder if their toys are tainted with lead; they should just get to play. Parents shouldn’t have to worry whether their kids’ bubble bath has cancer-causing chemicals; they should just enjoy splashing with them in the tub and living in the moment.

On the eve of my little girl’s birthday, I want to give her this gift above all others: a childhood untainted by toxic toys; teenage years unblemished by concerns over which cosmetics are safe (because they all will be); a path to motherhood that doesn’t involve the heartbreak of infertility or pregnancy loss; a future free of preventable diseases linked to toxic chemical exposures.

That’s why we’re heading to New York today to join other moms there—and across the country— in realizing this vision for our children’s future.  And let me tell you, when moms get together, we get the job done.   Senators, please take note and add your voice to the growing chorus of support for the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011.