This I Believe

Maureen - Sharpsville, Pennsylvania
Entered on January 24, 2008

My one-year old daughter is a scavenger – a raucous baby seagull with big blue eyes. Her greatest joy is pulling last night’s pizza box out of the garbage and scavenging for leftover crusts. She likes to chew on books, crayons, sticks and whatever she can pry off the bottom of her highchair.

For the most part, I don’t worry about the odd things she puts in her mouth. I keep coins and earrings out of her reach, and make sure the dried-out Cheerios from the floor still generally resemble Cheerios.

What I worry about are all the things that should be ok for her to chew on. The duck she loves to squeak in the bathtub. Her brightly painted doll. Sippy cups. The apples and blueberries and green beans and sweet potatoes that I load onto her plate.

I believe that kids should be able to play and eat and drink and breathe without ingesting toxic chemicals. I believe in making the world a healthier place for children.

I started a job in late 2006 focused on children’s environmental health issues. Through my work, I’ve learned that most sippy cups have a chemical in the plastic that may interfere with my daughter’s hormones, and someday, her ability to have children of her own. The lead paint on those toys may impair her ability to learn or interact with others. The pesticides in all those good fruits and vegetables are linked to cancers and other diseases that increasingly endanger children.

I believe that our industries and our governments need to make the world a healthier place for children too. In fact, I believe it should be their top priority.

When I first started my job, I would walk around my home almost in a panic, feeling like I could be inadvertently poisoning my children at every turn. I try to balance that fear with another core belief: that children should be free to experience the world on their own terms. I just want it to be a non-toxic world, at least the parts that come in contact with their hands and feet and mouths – so yes, pretty much all of it.

In the meantime, I do what I can to help them grow and thrive. We read and sing, play outside and paint. We snuggle and wrestle. I make sure they wash their hands, and brush their teeth and look both ways. And when my daughter triumphantly presents me with a half-eaten pizza crust, I laugh. And take a bite.