This was written by Cassidy Randall for Women’s Voices for the Earth:
People often ask me, “Why a women’s environmental organization?”
I always take a breath before answering, because there are so many reasons, and because each one contributes to my passion to get toxic chemicals out of our world:
- Women’s health problems linked to toxic chemicals are on the rise. Rising rates of breast cancer, early puberty, contaminated breast milk, infertility, birth defects – the list, unfortunately, goes on.
- Women are greater users of consumer products that contain toxic chemicals, like personal care products, fragrance, and cleaning products.
- Women of color are at greater risk. Many products marketed to women of color, such as skin lighteners, hair relaxers, and dyes, contain some of the most toxic chemicals on the market; flame retardant chemicals have increased by 40% in the breast milk of Inuit women in the Arctic; according to the CDC, African American women are 34% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.
- Women experience unique occupational exposures. 89% of maids and housekeeping cleaners are female, exposed to cleaning chemicals all day. 97% of the nail salon workforce is female, exposed to a host of toxic chemicals in nail salon products. Female-dominated occupations are more likely to be associated with fragrance allergy, such as massage therapists, cosmetologists, household workers, and stylists.
- Obviously, I could go on – these are all incredibly compelling reasons on their own. But this next reason is personal. And this is why I do the work that I do to eliminate toxic chemicals from the products that we use every day.
- Women are the first environment for the next generation. Biologically, we can pass chemicals on to our children in the womb and through breastfeeding.
I have endometriosis, which is the leading cause of infertility among women. Doctors have told me that it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to have children, that I may never have that opportunity to be the first environment for a child.
This story is far too common. Rates of endometriosis have risen exponentially in the last 50 years—it’s estimated that 10-20% of women suffer from it. Like the rising rates of breast cancer, doctors believe the increase is linked to toxic chemical exposure-in the womb, through breastfeeding, or exposures later in life.
A lot of mothers-to-be do as much as they can to reduce their toxic exposures during pregnancy, just like my mother did – but we simply can’t control everything. A 2009 study by our partners at EWG found over 200 synthetic chemicals present in cord blood in newborns. Another study shows that that if the average woman’s breast milk were bottled for sale, it wouldn’t pass FDA regulations. Breastfeeding is still the best option, but the amount of chemicals poses an unnecessary burden on the child.
I do this work because we can no longer continue to justify the reckless use of toxic chemicals that leaves 10 to 20% of women without the ability to have children.
I may not be able to have children of my own, but I’m part of this movement because I want to ensure that my nieces never have to worry about whether they’re exposing themselves to chemicals that will seriously impair their ability to reproduce. About whether something they’re spraying in their homes or putting on their bodies is messing with their hormones, or that a product they pick up off the shelf is determining the fate of their reproductive systems.
And this is why I’m so proud to be part of this movement – because we are actually creating this world that I’m envisioning. And we’re not just creating it for my nieces – we’re creating it for women all over the country.
The last year has been a groundbreaking year for policies that will protect women’s health – Congress held the first hearing on cosmetics safety in decades, and dozens of salon workers traveled to DC for a Healthy Salon Week of Action demanding protections from toxic chemicals in salons. The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act was just reintroduced, and the momentum behind this legislation is staggering.
The Safe Chemicals Act passed through the Senate committee last year as well, in the first vote on chemical policy in years. This bill was reintroduced a couple of weeks ago, and we have every intention of making sure it passes.
Because the bottom line is that it shouldn’t be our responsibility to research which products are safe for us to use. We should ALL be able to pick products off the shelves that are safe to begin with. And we have the power to make that happen.
When you join this movement, you become part of a rising tide of people who no longer want to participate in this uncontrolled chemical experiment on our bodies. The tide is rising fast and strong, and nothing can break our momentum – not the chemical industry, major corporations, or the politicians in their pockets. We have SO MUCH power, and this is the time to use it.