BY ON April 29, 2011

This piece was cross-posted at MomsRising.

Elisa Batista

About a year and a half ago, I testified before a California senate committee in support of a bill that would stop mandating — not ban! — the use of toxic flame retardants in certain baby products.

Studies have linked these toxic chemicals, also known as

“halogenated flame retardants” or HFRs, with decreased fertility in women and decreased IQ in children.


And there is no data to show they protect us from fires as most victims of fires — as many as 80 percent — die due to smoke inhalation and not the actual flames.

Because California de facto mandates the use of toxic or untested flame retardants in the foam of furniture and baby products such as nursing “boppy” pillows and car seats, and manufacturers are loathe to create different product lines for different states, it is almost a guarantee that every single one of us, including our babies, have been exposed to these toxins. For Latinos, our exposure is even greater. According to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, Mexican-American children in California have seven times higher levels of toxic flame retardants in their blood than do children in Mexico.

So when the issue came up for a vote in 2009 our legislators fought to protect maternal and infant health, right?

Wrong. The bill, SB 772, quietly died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The truth is there is money to be made from these chemicals that are mandated by a small California bureau to be included in many consumer products.

As a Latina mother, who wanted the freedom to buy baby products without these chemicals, I was appalled by the well-oiled and vicious campaign launched by the chemical industry to kill SB 772. It was ugly. There was money thrown around to buy off elected leaders and fly in people to testify. The outright lies — that flame retardants are actually good for us — was downright sickening.

I was especially disappointed in the way some of our Latino legislators voted on the bill. Here is a glimpse of how some Latino Assembly Members voted on SB 772:

Charles Calderon (D) – No
Felipe Fuentes (D) – Abstained
Jose Solorio (D) – Abstained
Edward Hernandez (D)– Abstained

Here is how some of our líderes voted in the Senate:
Ron Calderon (D) – No
Lou Correa (D) – No
Dean Florez (D) – No
Gilbert Cedillo (D) – Abstained
Denise Moreno Ducheny (D) – Abstained

Now, there were many Latino legislators who voted in favor of SB 772, including Assembly Speaker John Pérez of Los Angeles. Also, most Democrats voted for the legislation, even as Republicans at the end unanimously opposed it.

But what struck me most about the voting patterns was that a disproportionate number of Democrats who voted or abstained were…Latinos. These are our legislators who represent urban areas in southern California, where people disproportionately suffer from environmental health problems like asthma and autism, or the central valley where Latino farmworkers and their families get sick from pesticide drift. If we can’t count on our hermanos in the legislature to look out for our interests, then who?

I used to think that voting was enough to make systematic change. Today I am here to tell you it is not. Like the lobbyists, we need to hold the feet of our líderes to the fire — no pun intended. We need to follow the issues and make sure that our representatives vote “yes” to the environment and our health. The good news is there are several ways to do that right now.

SB 147, a bill similar to SB 772, is now up for consideration. The bill has gained momentum in that Wal-Mart, Target and Costco are thinking of phasing out flame retardants — just to show you that us moms are not the only ones worried about their toxicity.

On the legislative front, however, our politicians continue to be bought off by the chemical industry. Recently when the bill appeared before a senate committee, a disproportionate number of Latino Senators voted no on the bill: Lou Correa, Juan Vargas, Edward Hernandez and Gloria Negrete McLeod. All of these senators as well as Assembly Members Gilbert Cedillo, Jose Solorio and Norma Torres have received campaign contributions from the American Chemistry Council, according to the non-profit group Maplight.org.

Hernandez, who represents Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley, is one of the biggest recipients of the chemical lobbyists. Among his donors are Chevron, Exxon, Chemtura and Albemarle, according to Maplight.org.

¡Basta ya! If you see your state legislators on this list — especially Hernandez, Negrete McLeod and Vargas, who could potentially change the fate of this bill — please call them and support SB 147. Here are their phone numbers as well as those for members of the Assembly. Let the políticos voted by us know that you are aware of the chemical industry’s political contributions to them and that you hope they will side with their constituents.

Want to make more waves on Mothers Day? If you have not done so already, please join me on the Moms Clean Air Force and share your story on our Mothers Day blog carnival. Also, tell the EPA that you support the new mercury and air toxics standards.

You may think your letter or phone call is insignificant, but it is necessary to combat visits by lobbyists. We can take back our government one phone call or e-mail at a time, but we need to take a minute of our day to do it. ¡Si se puede!

This post is part of the MCAF Blog Carnival: A Mother’s Day Gift.  We invite you to join the Carnival and submit a letter to your kids about what you want to give them for Mother’s Day.

TOPICS: Activism, Autism, Latino Community, Politics, Pollution, Social Justice