The Clean Water Blog

Dr. Hannah Gardner testifies on MA Disclosure of Toxic Chemicals Bill

MA Scientist Pushes for Transparency about Toxic Chemicals

In Massachusetts, Clean Water Action and the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow are fighting to get toxic chemicals out of our environment, our homes and - yes, unfortunately - children's products. In this work, we often partner with public health professionals, doctors, nurses and researchers who bring their academic expertise and field experience to bear in educational forums and testimony at public hearings. Below is one medical professional's testimony as she stands up for kids and workers' health at a recent public hearing at the Massachusetts State House. Thank you, Dr. Gardner, for your advocacy! 

I am Dr. Hannah Gardener and I support the Disclosure Bill to protect children and workers from toxic chemicals (S.1191). I am an epidemiologist at a medical school and a parent of two young children. I received my doctorate in epidemiology from Harvard in 2007, where I studied long-term neurological health effects of exposures early in life. From a public health perspective, it is important to reduce the exposure of babies and children to carcinogens, mutagens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins, due to their unique susceptibility to the harmful effects. Carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are all more likely to result in significant health effects for babies and children due to their rapid growth and development, smaller size, and decreased ability to eliminate and detoxify harmful chemicals.

The presence of chemicals that are well-established toxins in the medical literature is an unfortunate reality in home products including those marketed to babies and children. They are not in all products, but they are prevalent. Carcinogens are chemicals shown to cause cancer, including common ingredients like formaldehyde, chlorinated tris, and PERC. Phthalates and bisphenols represent common reproductive toxins and chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, impacting the fine balance of hormones throughout the body. Neurotoxins represent chemicals that impair brain function and development, including heavy metals like lead and mercury, brominated flame retardants, and many fragrance ingredients. Parents deserve to know what products in their homes can contain these so that they are able to protect their children and minimize their family’s exposure to harmful chemicals.

As a parent who knows how dangerous these toxins are I scrutinize the ingredients and components for all products that come into my house, including personal care products, cleaning products, paints, home repair products, toys, and baby items. I compare these ingredients and components with the medical literature to protect my children from harmful environmental contaminants. This is not challenging for me because of my background, but you should not need a doctorate in public health to protect your child. You should not need a medical background to be able to safely shop at grocery and convenient stores. I also have a consulting business where I do this for other families – help them identify toxic products in their homes. Again, nobody should have to hire someone to do this job. This information needs to be made publicly available in an accessible and readable database. This bill can be the solution to this problem.

Some examples: Walking into my daughter’s school recently I noticed that the elevators were being sprayed with the popular degreaser called Sheila Shine, used to make stainless steel appliances and surfaces sparkling clean. Its ingredients include the class 1 and 2 carcinogens petroleum distillates, ethylbenzene, and tetrachloroethylene. It was being used by untrained employees in unventilated enclosed spaces close to small vulnerable children.

Perhaps your children or grandchildren also have Squishies on their holiday wish lists? Squishies are small foam toys filled with artificial fragrance that puffs out when the toys are squeezed. I don’t know if you were able to find out if that fragrance in them contains carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or neurotoxins, but I was not able to.

Third, I am expecting a nephew this winter and I wanted to buy him a Babyzen stroller. I contacted the company to find out if they contained halogenated flame retardants, known to be reproductive toxins. First I was told they did, and then weeks later they retracted that answer. This information should not be so difficult to ascertain.

The Disclosure Bill is critical for parents to protect their babies and children from chemicals with evidence of harmful health effects. Parents are not trained to do this investigative work themselves, nor should they need to.


Hannah Gardener