GroundTruth Blog

Kristin Schafer's blog

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When you're pregnant, there's a lot to think about. If it's your first, you're vaguely aware that your life is about to change forever. In the meantime, you worry. Am I eating right? Taking the right vitamins? And just what do I need to know about pesticides and other harmful chemicals during pregnancy?

The critical importance of this last question just got an official nod from the largest national organization of OB/GYNs. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a groundbreaking report last month recommending that every mother-to-be receive advice in prenatal visits on how to avoid chemicals that can harm fetal development — and the future health of her child. This is a very good, very powerful idea.

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EPA is doing a better job protecting children's health, according to a new government report. This is very welcome news indeed — kudos to EPA for recognizing that when it comes to environmental harms, kids cannot be treated like little adults.

The bad news? The report flagged one arena where kids' health protection is lagging: pesticide decisionmaking. Yikes. As we know from our recent A Generation in Jeopardy report, pesticide exposure is a biggy when it comes to childhood health harms.

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Seven years. Scientists tell us that's the window in the first years of life when children are most vulnerable to pesticide harms. That's also exactly how long EPA has — so far — delayed putting rules in place to protect kids from pesticides that drift from agricultural fields.

Bottom line? While regulators think about what to do, an entire generation of rural kids has experienced increased risk of harms that can last a lifetime. Health risks from early life pesticide exposure are very real, and can be serious. Science points to falling IQs, ADHD, learning disabilities, birth defects and, in some cases, cancer. That's why this week, we're taking EPA to court for being too darn slow.

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Update 7/18/13: After months of delay, Gina McCarthy was confirmed as the new head of EPA today. See this media statement for more details.

We hear the Senate will take up the confirmation of EPA's new leader next week. As we wait on the final vote, I've been thinking about what I'd say to Administrator-to-be Gina McCarthy if I had a chance to take her out for coffee and a chat as she gets ready to step into her new role.

Three things come to mind. First, I'd urge her to have the agency do a much, much better job following the science. Second, when that science points to human health or environmental harms, she needs to move fast — no dawdling allowed. And third, I'd remind her just exactly who she'll be working for. Because even though they don’t show up in suits on EPA’s doorstep every day (like the industry reps do), it's the nation's children she'll answer to in the end.

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Ed Brown's new movie Unacceptable Levels tells the story of chemicals in our bodies: how they get there, what it means to our health, how in the world it can be legal, and what we can do about it.

All this from the perspective of a young dad contemplating the food his family eats, the water they drink and that cute little rubber duck his kids chew on. Brown's personal journey, as he pulls back the veil on our chemically-saturated world, is well worth watching. I'll be at the film's July 11 screening in San Francisco along with other PAN staff — if you're in the Bay Area, please join us! Showings are also happening soon in Chicago and Austin.