I know this is a busy time of year for you and most of your letters come from children rather than their parents, but I am compelled to write to you, because there is something I really want for Christmas — a healthy future for my family.
It turns out that coal isn’t the worst thing children can get in their stockings. Children’s toys, clothes, jewelry and electronics contain unsafe chemicals that can leach out of the products and into our kids’ bodies. You probably remember two years ago, when there was a huge toy recall at holiday time because of lead contamination, and recently I read a new report about high lead levels in jewelry from Disney and in Barbie accessories from Mattel.
And lead is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many hazardous chemicals in children’s products, chemicals that I don’t want under my Christmas tree. But right now they’re widely used, and we don’t have any way of knowing which products on store shelves contain unsafe chemicals and which do not.
My kids are thinking about the presents they’ll get on Christmas morning, but I’m thinking about what they may get years later. Many of these chemicals are known to disrupt hormones and cause learning disabilities, cancer or reproductive harm, and they may build up in our bodies and remain toxic for a long time.
The problem is that the federal law that should ensure that chemicals used in consumer products are safe is badly broken and doesn’t protect us. It desperately needs to be fixed.
Maine is on the right track toward creating a more protective system with its new Kid-Safe Products Law. This summer, in a first step toward implementing this new law, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection and Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified a list of more than 1,700 “chemicals of high con-cern” that are known to affect human health. Over the next couple of years, manufacturers will be required for the first time to publicly disclose their use of some of these chemicals and to replace priority chemicals with safer alternatives.
But Maine can’t be expected to solve this major public health threat alone, and changes in Maine law don’t protect my nieces and nephews in Minnesota, Florida and California, who deserve the same protections as my own children.
So Santa, this Christmas I am hoping for a new federal chemicals policy, one that will:
• Immediately begin to phase out chemicals we know are dangerous.
• Require basic health and safety information from chemicals manufacturers.
• Protect all people, especially the most vulnerable group — our children — using the best science available.
• Safeguard Maine’s progress toward ensuring the safety of children’s products.
That’s a gift that would keep on giving, because it would protect all of our families for years to come.
Thank you, Santa.
Gail Carlson of Waterville teaches in the Environmental Studies Program at Colby College, and is a board member of the Environmental Health Strategy Center www.preventharm.org.