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Archived: Minority Communities Overexposed to Toxins

It’s easy to become alarmed when we learn about the invisible dangers around us. However, very few of us are truly informed about the risks we face. In general, we trust that what we eat, buy and where we live and work are safe for our health and the health of our families.” Unfortunately, this is a false security since the regulation of toxic chemicals in consumer products is lax at best and often allows for the manufacturing, sale and disposal of products that are harmful to humans. Many products that contain toxic chemicals end up in our homes and workplaces and ultimately, inside our bodies since we can absorb many of them through our skin, lungs, and digestive tract.

As a mother I try to keep my home environment free of toxic chemicals, but despite all the information I have access to, I fear that my family is defenseless against the toxics in our walls, carpets, furniture, personal products, toys and many others all around us. And protecting against all those invisible but present dangers can be too costly for most families.  This should not be the case. We should all have access to the information that we need to protect ourselves and to products that are truly safe.

Unfortunately, we are all being exposed to toxics and for some communities the exposures are even greater. Studies show that in the U.S., Latinos and African Americans are exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals throughout their daily lives. Though the science is relatively scarce there have been several studies that support the theory that people of color are more exposed to such toxics than other ethnic/racial populations

A 2009 study at the University of Texas found that people of Hispanic origin are exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde and benzene inside their homes, work and schools, thus increasing their risks of cancer.  A 1999 University of California study similarly found that 80% of the children of Mexican American mothers in Southern California were exposed to toxic chemicals in their homes.

Some of these exposures are a direct result of the work Latinos do. Farmers, janitors, construction workers, landscapers, dry cleaners and manufacturing workers, and many others, are regularly exposed to consistently high levels of carcinogens, hormonal disruptors, neurotoxins, and acute irritants in the products and materials they use in their jobs sometimes without recognizing the risks. Risks which are in no way justifiable.

We must call for toxics reform. For this reason, La Onda Verde de NRDC is unleashing a renewed advocacy effort to inform  and involve Latinos everywhere in the call for much needed reform of the federal laws that regulate the production, use and disposal of harmful chemicals that can come in contact with our bodies, food and immediate surroundings.

Thanks to efforts thus far, in July 2010, Congressmen Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush introduced the “Toxic Chemical Security Act” (H.R. 5820) to the House of Representatives but work remains to be done. The U.S. Congress must hear a loud call by the Latino community demanding safer chemicals all around them.

Linda Escalante is an environment expert with La Onda Verde de NRDC – Natural Resources Defense Council. For more information, visit www.laondaverde.org