The recent headlines have been shocking: toxic chemicals in our everyday stuff – furniture, cleaning supplies, shampoo – are interfering with our ability to reproduce. Sperm counts are falling worldwide; reproductive development in children is being altered; fertility itself seems to be on the ropes. I take this personally: As the mom to two teenagers and a preteens, I’m deeply alarmed. But worse, the headlines are sadly, deeply familiar.
In 1999, I was working as a policy assistant at the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, for Dr. Philip Landrigan, pediatrician and pioneer in the field of environmental health. Dr. Landrigan is known for groundbreaking research on lead poisoning in children, and for helping set recommendations about pesticides in children’s diets.
Twenty years ago, Dr. Landrigan was also interested in the impact of pervasive industrial chemicals on men’s reproductive health. To that end, he convened a conference, and I helped draft the resulting report, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2000. The paper raised the concern that sperm quantity and quality were declining worldwide, and that toxic chemicals in the environment may play a role in that decline.
In order to write that paper, I had to read all the research that had already been conducted about declining sperm counts. It was more than a few papers. I was concerned, but as someone who didn’t have children yet, it felt like somewhat of an abstract issue.
Two decades ago: The scientists were doing the research, and noticing troubling trends. But in the intervening time, very little has happened to protect us from toxic chemicals.
It didn’t have to be that way. We could have taken a much more precautionary approach to chemical regulation. But our chemical regulatory system was rigged in favor of bringing new chemicals to market, instead of protecting our health from potential harms. When that regulatory system was updated, with strong bipartisan support, in 2016, there was tremendous promise that the EPA would be able to protect public health from exposures to potentially toxic chemicals. But the implementation of the new toxics law under Trump’s EPA fell far short of that promise.
We are not safe yet. Our bodies, and the bodies of our boys and girls, our young men and women, are under a sneaking, sinister assault, one that takes years to play out.
It’s time for EPA to fully implement the updated toxics law, with public health as the priority. Decades of scientific research continue to pile up, pointing toward one, heart-heavy conclusion: Our chemical policies aren’t working. Our kids are being exposed to chemicals in the stuff we use every day that may be causing long-term harm. The kind of harm this hopefully future grandmother finds it impossible to accept.
With new leadership at the helm of the EPA in Administrator Regan, this is the moment for EPA to address this problem. We know we can do better – and we know our children, and their children, are counting on it.
So please join me in sending a message to Administrator Regan: Stop the cynical chemical industry’s attempts to cripple our hard-won toxics law—and protect us.