In the community where I grew up in Baltimore MD, the fashion was to have ever-green lawns. Which of course required regular visits by companies with names like “ChemLawn” whose job it was to spray fertilizer and herbicides to keep those lawns looking perfect. The neighborhood was littered with little yellow flags warning kids and pets off those nice looking recently sprayed lawns. My friends and I coined the extremely clever campaign “Birds Can’t Read” after I read about some of the harm chemicals like 2, 4-D and Diazinon could do to children, birds and animals. My first real canvassing experience found me going door to door talking to my neighbors about the science behind these chemicals. I think they listened because it was quaint to see a young teenager trying to pronounce terms far beyond my ability. After several years of working neighbor-by-neighbor to replace those “keep off” signs with hand stenciled blue “Pesticide Free Lawn” signs, I left my adolescent environmental campaign behind and moved to Maine to go to college.
Fast forward 20 years and the impact of pervasive toxic chemicals is front and center. Americans rightly want to know that they can be safe from harmful chemicals where they live, work and play. Increasingly, women want to know how unnecessary toxic chemicals in consumer products could be affecting their health – especially during critical periods in a woman’s development such as adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause. We are learning that chemicals such as Bisphenol A, are not only tied to harmful health effects in adults but can endanger a developing fetus and a growing child.
For nearly two decades I’ve been fortunate to work as an advocate for public policies to improve the lives of women and girls. But things come full circle. It has been through my work for reproductive freedom that I’ve learned again about some of the chemicals that are pervasive in our environment, in consumer products on lawns and in our homes can have particular harm for women and their reproductive futures. Some of the worst of the worst toxic chemicals, such as BPA, are linked not only to reproductive health impacts such as breast cancer, they can also impair our fertility and imperil a pregnancy and fetal development.
In my work today, I advocate for women’s ability to determine when and whether to bear children and raise a family. – an intensely personal and often very complex decision. Full reproductive freedom requires that we address the chemicals that impair our fertility and prevent healthy pregnancies. Thanks to ten years of advocacy by the Environmental Health Strategy Center, these connections are clear, in the interest of the public health, a safe environment, and our families and reproductive futures. We can all read the signs.
Sarah Standiford is currently the Regional Field Manager for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. From 2003 through 2011, Sarah was the Executive Director for the Maine Women’s Lobby, which plays a leadership role in the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.