No parent should have to worry about whether chemicals found in their couch, carpet or even children’s toys could put their children at risk. But the reality is that we should worry: scientists agree that certain toxic chemicals contribute to learning and developmental disabilities.
As a mom of a child with autism and someone who works for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, I know firsthand how important it is to protect our children’s potential to learn and thrive. That’s why I have been to Washington, D.C., twice in the past few years to meet with Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and shared how critical it is to protect our children’s health from toxic chemicals.
For years, scientists and doctors have sounded the alarm on the link between toxic chemicals found in our homes, schools and workplaces and problems with brain development. Last year, an alliance of nearly 50 leading scientists, medical professionals and children’s advocates issued a statement saying that toxic chemicals in our food, water, soil and products are increasing children’s risks for neurological disorders, including learning disabilities, ADHD, autism and intellectual impairments. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that a combination of environmental factors, including exposure to toxic chemicals, and genetics contributes to at least 25 percent of learning and developmental disabilities in American children.
Yet, for decades, America’s main chemical safety law wasn’t equipped to protect our kids from harmful chemicals. The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 was so badly broken the Environmental Protection Agency hadn’t even tried to ban a chemical in decades and had no ability to ensure the safety of new chemicals before they were allowed on the market. Incredibly, we’ve allowed neurotoxic chemicals like unnecessary flame retardants into the furniture in our homes and schools, where kids or pregnant mothers are exposed and put at risk.
The Lautenberg Act, signed into law last year, fixed the biggest problems with the Toxic Substance Control Act, including removing the impossible red tape that had prevented us from banning even asbestos — a known human carcinogen. It was a rare bipartisan victory, and Republicans and Democrats rightly joined with President Barack Obama to sign the Lautenberg Act into law. Our children’s health is not a partisan issue.
That makes it all the more shocking that Congress is now moving legislation that would roll back that progress, and reinstate the flaws in the old law that prevented action to protect us — and our precious kids — from asbestos and other toxic chemicals.
Under the guise of regulatory reform, the misleadingly named Regulatory Accountability Act sets an impossibly high bar for any action on toxic chemicals. But this time, instead of applying just to toxic chemicals, the bill would extend the problem across the entire federal government. In fact, food safety standards, car safety measures and a slew of other basic health and safety protections would all be in jeopardy.
Washington already moves far too slowly, but the Regulatory Accountability Act proposes to add more red tape and bureaucracy that would grind federal agencies to a halt. It already takes years or even decades to ban harmful chemicals or set safety standards for car seats. The Regulatory Accountability Act would lengthen this process and could make new protections impossible.
Our kids can’t afford to wait. While the federal government does nothing, our babies and children are going through critical stages of development, when they are most susceptible to the harm done by toxic chemicals and other health threats. I hope Collins and King put our children’s health and the health of future generations first and reject the Regulatory Accountability Act and other dangerous bills that would harm Maine children.
Tracy Gregoire is the Healthy Children Project coordinator for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine.