Testimony by Ellie Goldberg, adapted
from a March 24, 1997 version submitted to the Massachusetts Senate
Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of the
(defeated) Massachusetts Citizens' Right to Know Act.
submitting this testimony in favor of The Massachusetts Citizens' Right
to Know Act because I believe it offers an important advance in the
protection of children from exposures to the harmful chemicals and other
toxic ingredients that damage their health and sabotage their
I believe that no risk to a child is acceptable if
it is avoidable. Not providing information about ingredients in food
and consumer products is a betrayal of the most basic principles of
I am convinced that the current conspiracy of
silence about toxic ingredients condemns many infants and children to an
unhealthy and uncertain future and wastes millions of health and
education dollars spent to treat or compensate for preventable illnesses
In September, 1996, the US Environmental
Protection Agency published a new National Agenda to Protect Children's
Health from Environmental Threats.
It challenged industry, government,
health professionals and other interest groups to adopt and help to
implement standards and policies that explicitly recognize the special
vulnerability of children to toxic threats and the rights of parents to
information that enables them to reduce toxic exposures. The
Massachusetts Right to Know Act would demonstrate a commitment to this
The need for specific information on ingredients is vital
to the interests of children and their families. The lack
of information about ingredients in most consumer products means we can never
know how many headaches, upset stomachs, nausea, rashes, mysterious leg
cramps, dizzy spells, mood swings, anxiety attacks, temper tantrums,
chronic rhinitis and sinusitis, cases of asthma, learning disabilities,
emotional and behavior disorders, and other symptoms and conditions are
caused by exposures to allergens, contaminants and toxic ingredients in
food, cleaning supplies and disinfectants, perfumes, paints, pesticides,
adhesives, air fresheners and room deodorizers.
We do not know
how many so-called colds, bronchitis, sore throats, pneumonia and other
respiratory ailments that are automatically attributed to viruses may
have started with chemical exposures we are not aware of.
information about ingredients, parents and health professionals do not
know the nature, frequency and intensity of these exposures nor do they
recognize the source of illnesses. And it is impossible to track the
additive, synergistic, cumulative or multiple effects of these
We can only imagine the average young child on the
average day at home, at school and at play and guess how many exposures
to air fresheners or room deodorizers, disinfectants, perfume, scented
soaps, disinfectants, carpet cleaning chemicals, pesticides, lawn care
chemicals, adhesives, and solvent-based markers, dry-erase markers, and
other common school supplies and art materials.
We can only
imagine the impact of the paradichlorobenzene, naphthalene, cresol,
ethanol, xylene, formaldehyde, or isocyanates and other irritants,
carcinogens and neurotoxic chemicals on that child's health, behavior,
and learning potential. We can only try to calculate the chances of
those lungs developing asthma
One consequence of the ignorance
about chemical hazards is the growing problem of inhalant abuse among
young adolescents. The most frightening aspect of the problem is that
children who abuse inhalants are using common household products and
school supplies in their homes, garages,
classrooms and stores.
These chemicals are
subject to restriction and regulation to protect adults in the workplace
but not children in the nursery or the classroom.
It is bad policy
that public health officials are concerned about the intentional abuse
of these products by children but not the intentional exposures of
infants and children to these same products by uninformed parents and
school personnel, ignorant of their dangers.
Department of Public Health's educational material about inhalants is
explicit: Inhalants are poison. Inhaling these products causes brain,
nerve, kidney and liver damage. Symptoms are a runny nose, sniffling,
coughing, irritated eyes, extreme mood swings, irritability, outbursts,
nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and convulsions. Death can result
from one time use. (Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of
Substance Abuse Services.)
The solution is simple: just as we
routinely read food labels for nutrition information, parents and others
responsible for children should be able to routinely screen food and
other consumer products and materials for harmful ingredients.
The benefits to individuals, to families and to society would be enormous.
The disclosure and labeling of ingredients in consumer products
would give parents the opportunity to make informed and enlightened decisions about food and products
would be a strong public health measure that would reduce environmental health threats, especially to children.
would allow better identification of the relationships between sources of exposure and acute symptoms and chronic illnesses.
would motivate manufacturers to see the marketing advantage of
eliminating ingredients that are a threat to health and the environment.
would save millions of health and education dollars now going to treat or compensate for preventable illnesses and disabilities.
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)