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Archive: Fertility & Reproduction - MOMS.

Environmental Justice Issue: Low-Income Communities of Color are the Most Exposed to Flame Retardants!

9:42 pm in Activism, Children's Health, Environmental Justice, Fertility & Reproduction, Legislation by Analisa Garcia

In researching PBDEs and flame retardants for my last post, I came across a recurring issue that I could not ignore: People of color in California are disproportionately impacted by the pervasive use of flame retardants, and have the highest exposure to toxic flame retardants nationwide!

Flame retardants are present in most furniture because the tobacco industry was forced to address fire safety, and wanted to do so without changing their product. Instead, the tobacco industry joined forces with chemical companies to “improve fire safety” by soaking household furniture in a toxic chemical stew. To add to the disgrace, the makers of flame retardants claim that flame retardants target the safety of low-income communities of color who disproportionately suffer from home fires. Instead we have seen that low-income communities of color in California have the highest exposure to flame retardants from household dust nationwide, and still suffer from higher rates of fire-related deaths.

The study that best exemplifies this inequity was conducted with California residents of Richmond, Salinas and Oakland-all predominately low-income communities of color. The study found that these communities live in homes where dust contains 5 to 10 times more PBDEs than the rest of the country, and about 200 times more than other developed countries. Dust is a primary route of exposure, especially for young children who often place their hands in their mouths and play and crawl on the floor. Similarly, research at the University of California, San Francisco, revealed that low-income pregnant women of color who are U.S. born and living in California have the highest recorded PBDE blood levels among pregnant women worldwide. They also found that African American children in California and other non-whites have higher levels of PBDEs in their blood than white children. Why the disparity?

Some attributing factors to the disproportionate impact of flame retardant exposure are:

• Characteristics of furniture:

-Older furniture. Low-income communities may get household items second-hand and cannot afford to replace them with newer, safer versions that may not be available in stores in their communities in addition to being cost-prohibitive.

• Housing Quality and Home Environment:

-Size and design of the home-building codes and regulations are not met including deteriorating infrastructure. -Ventilation system and lack of proper ventilation increases indoor air pollution.

• Physical and Social Characteristics of the Neighborhood Environment:

-Low-income communities of color have higher crime rates therefore many children cannot safely play outside and are limited to playing indoors where dust accumulates.

-Low-income communities of color are more likely to live in hazardous areas near industrial facilities.

Individual actions can be taken to reduce exposure to flame retardants. Unfortunately, many low-income communities of color cannot afford to take most of the suggestions to limiting exposure, such as buying safer couches and special vacuum filters. Washing your hands frequently is one of the most effective ways to reduce exposure, and if you cannot afford to purchase new products, this is the best alternative. Luckily, our government is beginning to respond to increasing concern about the impacts of flame retardant use.

A proposed replacement to the 1975 regulation, Technical Bulletin 117 which requires the use of flame retardants is currently under review. If the new California Flammability Standard-TB 117-2013 passes, it will improve fire safety without relying on toxic flame retardant chemicals. Technical Bulletin 117-2013 would help improve California’s public safety and eventually reduce racial and socioeconomic disparity. Unfortunately even after this law is fixed for the better, low-income communities will continue to be exposed to flame retardants in their homes, because most cannot afford to buy new furniture- nor should they be expected to “buy” their way out of the problem. This is why we need to test the safety of chemicals before they are released on to store shelves and into our bodies and into the environment. Without doing so, we have no way of knowing the effects they may have on our health and the planet. To take action urging our government to protect all families from toxic flame retardants please sign our petition!

Before Your Time: Confronting The New Normal of Early Puberty

7:12 pm in Body Burden, Children's Health, Fertility & Reproduction by Mary Brune

Last week I took my daughter Olivia in for her annual well visit with our pediatrician. I expected the eye examination, the flu shot, the questions about school, diet, etc. What I didn’t expect was for our doctor to ask Olivia if any of her classmates (she’s in the third grade) had gotten their periods yet, or if any of them were wearing a bra. And from the way she squirmed in her chair it was obvious she wasn’t expecting to have this conversation either.

Doing what I do, it shouldn’t be any surprise to hear that eight-year-old girls are getting their periods. How many times have I written “early puberty” in a blog post myself? It’s quite a different thing entirely, however, when the reality of what that could mean for your own little girl presents itself.

It’s no big surprise then, that companies like Kotex, who make feminine hygiene products, are beginning to market them to younger girls . If we ever needed proof that early puberty is a new reality, it’s that. Rather than letting companies capitalize on this new market space we parents should be fighting with everything we’ve got the industries and chemicals that have helped to create this new market.
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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

6:20 pm in Activism, Body Burden, Fertility & Reproduction by Mary Brune

OK, so I borrowed the title of this blog from a Tom Petty song, but when you’re just sitting at home, on maternity leave, waiting for the “big event” to happen…those lyrics just ring too true not to use. The waiting is the hardest part. And that’s saying something, especially since I’ve gotten to the point in my pregnancy that I almost need a crane to lift myself out of bed in the morning and duct tape to keep my pants from falling down. I have to endure the multitude of “you’re still pregnant?!!” comments when picking my other two kids up from school each day, and, well, the other unpleasant bits that are part of the bargain when growing a human inside you.

Despite all of the aforementioned issues, I have really enjoyed this pregnancy, especially this third trimester. Maybe that’s because I know it will (knocking very loudly on my wooden desk right now) be my last. There’s something bittersweet about it. But also, it’s likely because I’ve just felt, overall, much better physically than with my previous two pregnancies. And I’m considered to be of “advanced maternal age,” so that’s really saying something.

So, for me, the waiting is excruciating. Even for moms like me who have been there and done that (BTDT moms, in BabyCenter lingo), the experience of having gone through labor and delivery previously doesn’t really prepare you for what lies ahead. Unless you’ve got a scheduled c-section planned—which I don’t— there’s no way of telling when exactly this little bundle will come out to join the world. And for a planner like myself, that’s soooo incredibly hard to deal with. Not only is it hard to not know when the big show is going to begin, but it’s the how that also has my granny-sized panties in a twist. Will my water break first? If so, where will I be when it does? Will it hurt as much as last time, or more so? Will I be able to handle it? How big will this baby be, exactly? Will she be healthy?
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The Common Bonds of Mammal Motherhood: Pregnant Whales and Me

5:40 pm in Body Burden, Breast milk, Children's Health, Fertility & Reproduction, Legislation by Mary Brune

As a pregnant woman in the third trimester of pregnancy, I confess I sometimes feel an affinity to the whale. While no one has (at least not to my face) used the term “whale” in reference to my growing midsection, it’s still true to say that I feel like whales and I have a lot in common these days. (Although I must say I do not share their grace. I’m very un-whale-like in that regard when putting on underpants, tying shoes, or heaven forbid, trying to shave my legs.)

But last week I was reminded of another common bond between myself and the majestic mammals of the sea: the chemicals we are exposed to are taken into our bodies and passed on to our children in utero. A truth I wish neither of our species had to contend with.

In one of the first studies to measure the transfer of toxins during pregnancy, Arctic researchers sampled blubber from pregnant whales, and then took samples of the calves and compared the exposure levels of PCBs and PBDEs (two classes of flame retardant chemicals) and they found about 11 percent of the total of each chemical was handed down from mother to fetus.

What’s so significant about this study is its ability to show directly that the chemicals are passed on to the fetus during gestation. Depending on when the fetus is exposed,   exposure to these chemicals can interfere with normal growth and development and could even impact future health well into adulthood. Especially concerning is that the chemicals sampled in the study –PCBs and some of the PBDEs tested for—have already been banned. In the case of PCBs, which were banned back in the 1970s, it means that chemicals long extinct from the manufacturing plant are still wreaking havoc in our environment and on our bodies and will continue to do so for generations to come.

That’s quite a heady realization to have while pregnant. And it would be so easy to climb into my bed, pull the covers over my head and pretend it’s not happening. If only it were that easy to make it go away.

So, you might ask, what DO you do? To which I might reply: Whatever it takes. Knowing what we know about chemicals like PCBs  and PBDEs  and knowing what we know about the health effects of those and other long-lived, persistent, bio-accumulative toxins in our environment that are still in use, we must do whatever is necessary to get rid of them now, so what we can to stop the cycle of replacing old toxic chemicals with new toxic chemicals that pollute our environment and damage our health.

You can start by helping to pass The Safe Chemicals Act, which will be up for a vote on the Senate Floor in September.

You can also help put an end to outdated flammability standards that require the use of these flame retardant chemicals in the first place. Encourage the CPSC to enact its draft standards now!

Now I’m off to go to the pool. All this talk about whales makes me want to go swimming.

BPA in Cans: There’s No Silver Lining

6:03 pm in Body Burden, Consumer Products, Fertility & Reproduction, Food by Julia Hannafin

Last year, in my final month of high school, my parents sat me and my sister down one afternoon and said they had something serious to discuss. Almost instantly, the look of worry etched into my moms’ faces foreshadowed that the discussion wouldn’t be a happy one. My moms (I have two; Dawn is my birth mother and Audrey is my sister’s) sat down across from us, paused, and then shared the news that changed the course of our lives. My mom Dawn had breast cancer.

After three months of chemotherapy, Dawn lost her hair, her appetite, her energy, but never lost her positive spirit, despite feeling weakened by her illness. My mother is beautiful, kind, warm-hearted, and resilient. She has the character traits best equipped to handle an unsuspected onset of cancer; however with that said, months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can break down even the strongest individual.

Our family rotated around her cancer like planets around the sun. Following radiation treatment in December, she beat the cancer in her breast, but discovered a new threat: cancer in her brain. While currently undergoing her seventh or eighth round of radiation treatment, Dawn and her doctors are hopeful this will be the final treatment step towards full recovery.

Over the past year, our family was so consumed with fighting the cancer, we didn’t stop to wonder what had caused it in the first place. I recently discovered that cause of her cancer (and the cancer of many others across the nation) could be from a seemingly harmless action: EATING CANNED FOODS.
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“Stealth Chemicals”: Are they Lurking Inside You?

8:58 pm in Body Burden, Fertility & Reproduction, Food by natalie-dayton

That time of the week has arrived again – grocery shopping. Aside from struggling to find the perfect combination of healthy, pesticide-free, cost effective, and taste-bud satisfactory food, it seems obvious grocery shopping for the environmentally and health conscience mother is no easy task. Even after having done your research, as you haul that gallon of milk into your cart, are there still life-altering chemicals waiting to be ingested come dinnertime?

Dr. Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive medicine specialist and professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, recently conducted an interview with EurActiv about the potential effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) or “stealth chemicals” as Dr. Swan nicknames them.

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Avatar of GraceP

by GraceP

Smoking Mom: The Big No-No of Modern Society

6:56 pm in Air, Fertility & Reproduction by GraceP

Smoking during pregnancy heightens the risk for a lower birth weight at delivery, we’ve known that for a long time, but astonishing studies conducted recently confirm links between smoking while pregnant and long-term problems lasting into adulthood for kids whose mothers smoked.

Two of the most damaging effects of smoking have wide-ranging outcomes for the developing fetus. Smoking constricts blood vessels, including those that are in the uterus. This cuts off the vital supply of nutrients and oxygen to the baby. In addition, carbon monoxide levels rise in the blood of moms who smoke. This gas is the same one that causes asphyxiation from leaks in car exhaust and faulty gas heaters. It acts to further cut off the oxygen supply to the developing baby. Mothers who are exposed to second hand smoke at home or in the workplace are endangering their unborn child, and should insist that they live and work in a smoke-free environment during pregnancy.

So, what are some of the results of depriving the fetus of vital nutrients and oxygen? Lower birth weight, premature birth and an elevated risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) are just a few of the problems that have been linked to mothers who smoke. Infant mortality rates in general are higher for babies who experienced the dangers of a smoking mother. The lack of adequate nutrients and oxygen causes delays and disruptions in the development of the fetus, most importantly in brain development. Recent studies show that there is a significant risk for behavioral problems in teens and young adults if their mothers smoked. There is even an elevated risk for psychotic behaviors including hallucinations and delusional thinking in pre-teens. And if this isn’t bad enough, even criminal behavior and substance abuse are more common among teens and young adults who had mothers who smoked during their pregnancy.
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Nuclear Power: Unsafe at Any Size

8:04 pm in Air, Body Burden, Children's Health, Fertility & Reproduction by Mary Brune

Let me get the disclosures out of the way up front. I’m not a scientist, nor am I an expert in nuclear power. For the record, all I know about environmental health was gleaned through independent research, not bestowed upon me in some ivy-covered building on an ivy-league campus. The letters Ph.D do not follow my name.

So what qualifies me to write about the bone-headed decision made by the NRC on Thursday to approve not one, but two new nuclear power plants in Georgia? Based on the above, you might say, “Not a whole lot.” And you would be wrong. I may not be a scientist, but I am a mother. I’ve created two of the most beautiful creatures on the planet inside my own body. Don’t tell me I don’t have a right to speak out about events that might put those products of my mama lab in jeopardy.

I would venture a guess that few of those who promote nuclear power as a “clean” power source have any idea that current EPA regulations for determining how much  nuclear radiation you can be zapped with before your lifetime cancer risk exceeds permissible levels is based on a white, 154-pound “Reference Man.” Recent 15-lb baby deliveries aside, it’s impossible that a fully grown male would ever emerge from the womb. Meaning that any individual—male or female— that’s smaller (or otherwise more at risk) than the Reference Man is more vulnerable to the effects of radiation exposure. Pound for pound, babies are more vulnerable than adults to a host of environmental pollutants. Imagine then, how much more vulnerable a fetus in the womb might be. Read the rest of this entry →

Book Review: The Complete Organic Pregnancy, by Deirdre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu

7:33 pm in Body Burden, Fertility & Reproduction, Reviews by Mary Brune

It seemed like mere minutes after the two pink lines appeared that I walked—okay, ran—to the nearest bookstore and bought an armful of books about pregnancy. Suddenly, I had a million questions that needed answering. How much should I be eating? Why can’t I eat soft cheese? Why do I need to pee every five seconds? What’s really going on in there?

Most of the traditional books I had purchased did a fair job of answering these questions. But when it came to advice about how to guard against miscarriage, birth defects, or other negative pregnancy outcomes, none of them went beyond the standard cautions of avoiding caffeine and alcohol, drinking plenty of water, and delegating the job of cleaning out the cat box to somebody else (I was always looking for an excuse to get out of that last one anyhow). Read the rest of this entry →

NY Advocates Win PCBs Right-to-Know Battle

9:15 pm in Fertility & Reproduction, Green Schools by Mary Brune

A few weeks back I wrote about MOMS member Penelope Jagessar-Chaffer joining dozens of other concerned citizens at a press conference on the steps of NY City Hall to urge the NY City Council to pass legislation that would force disclosure of PCBs leaking from antiquated lighting fixtures throughout the NYC Public school system.

A week later, the Council unanimously voted to amend the city’s charter to require disclosure to parents upon the detection of PCB leakage, the results of which— many advocates hope— will be increased pressure from parents to accelerate the Department of Education’s 10-year plan to remove the hazardous fixtures from schools.

This is a huge victory for NYC schoolchildren, teachers, and school staff. NYC parents and advocates have won this battle. But to quote a fellow New Jersey native, Bruce Springsteen (I’ve always wanted to do that) “there’s a war outside still raging.”  Tackling the issue of PCBs in schools is just one of the many ways parents can, and must, step in to voice concerns and encourage reforms that would help protect children’s health.

Since it’s for a good cause, I’ll out my age by referencing another one of my favorite anthems from childhood, Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.”  I can still picture my tween-age self, hairbrush in hand, belting out the chorus “Heartache to heartache we stand. No promises, no demands. Love is a battlefield.” Come on, it’s a catchy tune. Read the rest of this entry →