Share Your Story
Your voice is powerful. Your personal, heartfelt words are more effective than a room full of policy reports, scientific studies, and professional lobbyists. Elected officials pay attention when their constituents speak up in their own voice. So pleasure share your story with us.
Have toxic chemcials affected your life? What do you worry about? Why do you think families need better protection? What, if any, changes have you made in your life to reduce your family's exposure to toxic chemicals?
Polly Schlaff's Story
I am the mother of three boys, ages 8,8 & 6. I am also a widow and a single mom. In 2004, I took my one year-old son, Drew, to Devos Children’s Hospital in G.R. to discuss surgery for a urological birth defect. After explaining the procedure that would correct Drew’s condition, his doctor, a renowned pediatric urologist, said, “You know, I hate to tell mothers this, but something you were exposed to during your pregnancy caused this condition.” He then described to me a group of synthetic chemicals known as “environmental estrogens,” that act as hormones disrupting the endocrine system and altering a child’s development, chemicals present in numerous household products. Drew’s condition was correctable, but I began to wonder about the link between toxins and the health of my family. What other effects could chemical exposures have on the well being of my family?
Then in August of 2006 the life of our family changed irreparably. My husband, a former college athlete, a high-school guidance counselor and the father of our three young boys, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer typically found in children. Doug was 33. From the beginning, Doug’s doctor assured us that his cancer was not genetic but rather environmental. Our children were at no greater risk as Ewing’s does not run in families but rather is caused by environmental exposures. Despite expert care and an aggressive course of treatment, Doug died in December of 2008.
I’ve learned a lot since his death, and I still have many questions. I’ve learned that urological birth defects are on the rise in all species including humans, particularly boys. I’ve learned that the rise in pediatric cancers since WWII follows the rise in the production of synthetic chemicals and cannot simply be explained by improvements in cancer screenings. Furthermore, I’ve learned that exposures to toxic chemicals during a child’s development have long lasting effects that may not become apparent until adulthood. Toxins with the potential to cause cancer and other illnesses are so prevalent in our lives that we are exposed daily without our knowledge or permission to numerous chemicals that have the ability to alter the health and the futures of our families.
As I’ve watched other families that I know battle cancer: a three-year-old boy, three young mothers in their late 20s and early 30s, my childhood play mate, a high school teammate and most notably, my 33 year-old brother-in-law, I’ve wondered: Did the children of my parent’s generation navigate potty training and chemotherapy at the same time? Did our grandparents worry about finding a babysitter to watch the kids during their next oncology appointment? Are the stories of my family and friends unique? What can I do to protect my family from cancer and illness?
My knowledge of the connections between environmental toxins and illness has changed the way I shop, clean, garden, cook and accomplish a number of daily tasks, but making healthy choices for my family is not easy. Due to trade laws, information on the health effects of the more than 80,000 chemicals produced in the U.S. is virtually non-existent. Furthermore current safeguards are ineffective. Since 1976, only 200 chemicals have been tested for safety by the EPA and of the 200 only 5 are regulated. Without the help of our legislators in creating laws to protect families and in providing parents with information necessary for making informed decisions, there are no guarantees that the chemicals that we bring into our homes are safe. The choices that we make for our children will affect their health, and I pray that their futures will not be clouded with disease and loss.