Editors note: The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition is grateful to Molly Jones Gray, who has done so much to support our work. Molly participated in a study investigating toxic chemicals in pregnant women, testified before Congress about her experiences, and shared her story with us. Molly reminds us that this campaign is about people who are working together for a safer, healthier, non-toxic world.
This blogpost is taken from Molly’s presentation on a November, 2010 teleconference sponsored by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families about reproductive health and chemicals. To hear the audio of the teleconference, follow this link.
It is my pleasure to be here. My name is Molly Jones Gray. I am here on this panel as concerned mother. During my pregnancy, I participated as one of the women in a Washington Toxics Coalition study called “Earliest Exposures.” This was a study of pregnant women to investigate what toxins our developing fetuses were exposed to during pregnancy.
Earliest Exposures – A research study by WA Toxics Coalition
The study tested for phthalates, mercury, PFC “Teflon chemicals”, flame-retardants, and BPA. Many of these substances are known to cause adverse health effects such as reproductive problems, cancer, hormone disruption, and impaired neurodevelopment. My results were higher than the national average in many of the substances tested. Of all the women tested, I had the highest levels mercury.
During the five years preceding the study, I struggled with fertility and repeated miscarriages. As I searched for an answer to why I was having such a hard time bringing a child to term, I discovered the connection between our external environment, chemical exposures and their effect on our health, particularly reproductive systems. At that time, I made reasonable changes in my life to reduce my exposure to toxic chemicals. With a background in nutrition my first stop was my food. We moved to a organic local foods diet free of pesticides. We avoided fish high in mercury and we did not cook, heat or store our foods in plastic. We examined our cleaning products and switched to green alternatives. We avoided BPA lined cans.
Personal Reflection on My Test Results
When I first heard of the study about chemicals in pregnancy, I was extremely interested in participating. I wanted to see if my best intentions made a difference. The answer I received was incredibly disheartening. I was shocked that my levels were as high as they were. I was left feeling powerless. As a pregnant mother I felt it was my role to protect my developing baby from harm. I learned that this fight to avoid toxins is larger than one person alone! These chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment and as clean as I tried to be, it was not enough to protect my baby boy. To learn that as hard as I tried by baby was still exposed to many chemicals known to have harmful effects. Chemicals that cause neurological problems, breast cancer, testicular cancer amongst may others left me feeling powerless.
I feel that mother’s- to- be can make many choices to ensure a healthy baby- we can take prenatal vitamins, exercise, avoid cigarettes and alcohol, and eat healthy diets. I am disappointed that with all of the choices we are able to make we do not have a choice to protect our children from the powerful influence of toxic chemicals on their developing bodies.
Now that my son is almost a year and a half, people often ask me if my son is healthy. My answer to that is as far as I know he is a healthy happy boy and yet I do not feel satisfied with that answer. My concerns are of the unknown. We have no idea what the long-term health implications of these results are and I do not want my precious son, his children, his grandchildren or any child to be our scientific experiment.
We Need Changes to Protect All Children
Developing babies are uniquely vulnerable to insult as they are developing at a rapid pace. Toxic exposures at crucial points in development could affect the wellbeing for a lifetime. In addition, fetuses have been found to have immature detoxification pathways. They cannot clear toxins as well as adults.
Something is wrong when I, as an educated consumer, am unable to protect my baby from toxic chemicals. I and all other parents should be able to walk into stores and buy what we need without winding up with products that put our families’ health at risk.
The policy debate surrounding toxic chemicals is highly technical. It’s easy to get lost in the abstract details of the chemicals names and legislative policies surrounding the issues. I believe that my role on this panel and on this issue in general is to be a constant reminder that our babies are currently born already exposed to chemicals that have known health complications. What we don’t know about toxic chemicals is harming real people, right now. Our babies today are serving as guinea pigs for the chemicals in our environment. Since participating in this study I have learned from an impressive lot of scientists on the matter such as today. I have learned so much. With all of this information I am hugely overwhelmed. I feel that I have to be a biochemist to keep my family healthy. Now that I’ve learned that companies can put chemicals into products without ever testing for whether they harm our health, I think we need to change our laws.
I am disappointed that toxic chemicals like the ones found in my body in pregnancy are in our environment, our personal care products, our clothes, our furniture, our baby toys, and our food. Babies deserve to grow and develop in a healthy environment, in utero and out. But babies are born everyday already exposed to toxins linked to serious health problems. Safe until proven harmful is not good enough for my baby or me. I want our country to value the lives of its children the same way I value and love my son. I think the health of our families , should be placed above the interest of chemical companies and their lobbyists. Let’s hope soon the idea that this generation has grown up surrounded by products made with toxic chemicals will seem as outrageous as people smoking on airplanes seems to my generation.
We need better laws to ensure that mother’s and babies are not exposed to this in the future. I think only the safest chemicals should be used in products because as we know from studies such as the one I participated in these are getting into our bodies and our babies bodies. It will take time to get this burden out of our bodies- we need to start now!
Thank you for this opportunity to tell my story.
Molly Jones Gray