Are We Risking Our Children's Health?

Research and Opinion by Peggy McGrath

The powerful influence of the petrochemical industry in impacting the health and safety of our children is mind-boggling. It all began after World War ll, when the industry focused on new uses for their potent chemicals.  One example was agricultural spraying with DDT, without any testing for safety. It took Rachel Carson and her 1962 book, SILENT SPRING to awaken the public to the dangers. Because of her influence, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Toxic Substance Control Act were implemented in the 70’s.   kids playing soccerSo we relaxed because we thought we were being protected. However, over the years lobbying efforts on behalf of the petrochemical industry have minimized the power of the EPA and the Toxic Substance Control Act.  To date there have been only five chemicals that have been blocked from production in the United States.

In the 70’s we were perceived by the world as the moral leader in health and environmental regulation, but now the leadership is shifting to the European Union. In 2006, they passed legislation called Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH). Since the E.U. is now considered, one of the most significant trading powers, their standard is becoming the international standard. Companies have fallen into step, following their regulations in order to have trading access with countries world-wide.

Many U. S. companies are also following their guide-lines, EXCEPT FOR products sold in our own country. That’s right! Dr. Mark Shapiro, author of Exposed: Deregulating Chemicals, predicts we will become the dumping ground for all toxic products. Why? Because Congress has paved the way for the petrochemical industry to do just that, by deregulation. During the Bush years, there was also a shift from a risk-benefit model to a cost-benefit model for environmental oversight.

But why should we be concerned about this in Oak Park? We are not one of those communities with chemical plants and oil refineries in our midst. Why should we pay attention to this issue?

  1. Toxic chemicals are in everyday products on shelves in our stores and most people are unaware of their hazards.
  2. Pesticide use on private lawns is the norm. The American Academy of Pediatrics just came out with an urgent message for pediatricians to educate parents on reducing children’s exposure to pesticides since they are “associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive functioning and behavioral problems”.
  3. Artificial Turf will be installed at Ridgeland Commons and plans are on the books for other parks. It is made from recycled tires, which contain chemicals that are carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, neurological and reproductive toxins.
  4. Talk of pesticides being used in our parks and on our fields is becoming more prominent again, after a 20-year hiatus, thanks to Barbara Mularky.

I do not question the integrity and deep commitment of our elected Park Board commissioners and our amazing and valued park district staff. However, because of the petrochemical industry’s power, it is difficult to find accurate and up-to-date information.

I have been concerned about the impact of toxins on our children and the environment for many years. I have had the good fortune of being in contact with several esteemed scientists in the field who have lead me to solid data. I understand how difficult and time-consuming it is to seek out scientifically researched information. I have written several ‘opinion’ essays for the Wednesday Journal over the last year. The only purpose was to share information with Oak Park citizens, so we all can make informed decisions based on scientific information.

In conclusion, I need to mention the Precautionary Principle, used in both Europe, a precursor to REACH, and Canada. It states simply, if the product is not proven safe, it cannot be sold.

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment , precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically” (Wingspread Summit Conference, Racine Wisconsin, 1998).

In common language, this means “better safe than sorry”. We need to err on the side of caution, to ensure the health and safety of all our children (

In the United States we have the opposite policy, the toxic product is deemed innocent until proven guilty. This puts the burden of proof on the victims of the toxicity, often after dire consequences. Somehow, together as Oak Parkers, we must change this.

-Peggy McGrath


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