Media

I was on Anderson Cooper’s daytime show, ANDERSON, on May 29, 2012, for a  segment on toxic chemicals in ordinary household items. A backstage video I did with a few tips is here. At the bottom of this page is information on The New York Times story that led to the ANDERSON appearance.

The story of this blog and more about my perspective on issues can be found under the About tab. 

My other published clips and media appearances cover a range of public policy issues from a progressive perspective. They include op-eds written during my past lives working at the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Public Citizen, as well as topics from this blog:

Media:

Opinion editorials in print:

Opinion editorials in on-line venues:

Research and consumer advocacy reports on which I was a managing editor or primary author include:

Other published work:  

In The New York Times on toxics:

Is It Safe to Play Yet? Going to Extreme Lengths to Purge Household Toxins, New York Times, March 15, 2012

LAURA MacCLEERY was four months pregnant when she parked herself on the couch and started an inventory of the chemicals in her Alexandria, Va., town house. First, Ms. MacCleery, 40, a lawyer and women’s health advocate, collected 70 products in a pile: things like makeup, shampoo, detergents and sink cleaners. Then she typed the names of the cosmetics into an online database called Skin Deep, created by the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org/skindeep), a research and advocacy organization.

Is the ‘Household Chemical Purge’ the New Baby-Proofing? New York Times Motherlode blog, March 15, 2012.

Have you purged your home of bisphenol A (known as BPA) yet? How about polyvinyl chloride (PVC)? In a world with books with titles like “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things” and documentaries like “My Toxic Baby,” it’s hard not to mock the urge to eliminate chemicals from our children’s environments, and equally hard not to see that we need to at least examine the chemicals in our children’s environments.

My long-form response to the NYT article:

Toxic Avenger: Talking Back to the Times

My 18-month-old daughter Maya’s photo was published yesterday in the New York Times, as the new poster child (literally) for concerns about toxics in children’s products.

The coverage in the Times contained some good information about the prevalence of toxic chemicals, which have been found in infants’ umbilical cord blood and bodies.  But it also suggested, tediously and repeatedly, that anxiety about chemicals was both frivolous and misplaced, and that a “green nursery” is mainly a social status concern for trendy moms.

Readers’ comments went further, invoking my name in several places, and suggesting I was mentally ill for tossing cosmetics filled with chemicals (seriously?), that I should not infect my daughter’s otherwise-blissful life experiences with such anxieties (I don’t), that limiting TV and safety risks are more important (I agree), that Maya should play in the dirt (of course she does), and even questioning risks related to the age at which I had my daughter (I was 38 then, just for the record, not that it’s anyone’s business anyway).

As a reproductive rights advocate, I’m used to taking flak, and being accused of helicopter mom tendencies is actually a welcome change from the far worse name-calling to which I am, sadly, quite accustomed. But it’s also the case that the Times reporter appears to have set out, from the beginning, to write a story destined to trivialize the concerns of families and the real risks to children. The article makes no real attempt to equip families to make decisions on health matters, and paints the few of us who attempt to address the issue as either frivolously self-indulgent or tragically foolish, as in the mom who works, allegedly, late into the night to make her own cleaning solutions of the oh-so-complicated baking soda and vinegar variety.

My interview with the Times was an hour and a half long, and covered a lot of ground. Yet Michael Tortorello, the article’s author, insisted on leaving in the text the (admittedly exorbitant) price-tag for the “organic” bassinet I’d ordered in a flurry of pre-baby excitement, despite my email to him in which I raised concerns that it would distract from a needed discussion about health and social class. After all, my point was that it was a ridiculous extravagance, and that it’s expensive and impractical to try to shop our way to some kind of solution here.

I also sent the author, although I wasn’t credited, the majority of the links, books and resources he cites in the piece. But tying those back to me would have made clear that my decisions about what’s best for my daughter’s health are based on scientific research across multiple sources, rather than uninformed anxiety, and thus undermined his “nutty mother” hypothesis.

Even more telling is what he omitted to include in the article from our interview. As I told him, in our house, we prioritize the health factors in things we eat, cook with, clean with, or put on our bodies (like lotions). So Maya eats grassfed meats and pasture-raised eggs, sure, as Michael Pollan and others recommend, for both health reasons and because pesticides accumulate in fats. I also do without all the fancy “miracle” face creams, and we are minimalist about cleaning supplies – just using less stuff overall, as well as some more expensive supplies.

But so that we can afford these upscale items, Maya also wears almost entirely second-hand clothes (like the jumper in the picture, which was $1.99 from Value Village, washed in bio-detergent). A hazmat onesie? Um, no. Similarly, Maya’s books are from thrift stores and library sales, and many of her wooden toys (and a few plastic ones) are such stores and yard sales, as well as the neighborhood list serv – scrounged, really, from wherever we can find them cheaply.

As I mentioned to Tortorello, all of the furniture in the nursery, except for the bassinet and crib, was used or repurposed, both so that any off-gassing would be done and costs would be low. Her changing table is an “organic” pad on top of a solid wood dresser from the 1950s I’ve had since post-college days. Even the bassinet – made with no formaldehyde – is now a gorgeous toy bin and doll cradle, and remains in use.

I am well aware that Maya will, all too soon, go off to school and be exposed to many things I can’t control. As I told him, she will have to live in this world, polluted as it may be. But I don’t think that is a good reason not to pay attention now to whatever I can do, when she is so little and so much growth is happening in her body. And if our choices help to create a better marketplace for more sustainable products, that’s all to the good.

These days, we’re just more intentional about what we buy — doing research, making a choice, and then moving on. I learned to read labels and avoid sulfates, parabens and other nasty stuff. We chucked our Teflon, and replaced it with enameled frying pans. We stopped heating anything in plastic (including the coffee maker – we use a French press, which makes better coffee anyway). We check any plastics we do use (numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are generally safer).

Even a back-to-basics parenting approach involves a huge amount of consumption: it was a learning process, initially, but now it’s just routine. Like everyone, we’re making sense of an abundance of choices with always limited information, and doing the best we can for Maya. I think this is normally called “parenting.”

There were other details I mentioned in the interview that would have added context and showed the balance of factors in our lives. But none evidently comported with the sexist caricature of a near-hysteric – the neurotic mother that the authors and editors felt best sensationalized the issue. What we were left with is, in a sense, what we are always left with from such coverage – a confusing stew of partial information, and a fine helping of judgment and guilt about parenting choices and concerns, seen through the hazy mist of a “trend” story that treats our lives as cartoonish distortions of our best intentions.

As a consumer advocate, I walked the halls of Congress too many times with broken-hearted parents who had lost a child from a failure to regulate a dangerous product or chemical. When I had my own child, knowing what I know about the inside story of Washington; the weak, underfunded and overworked government agencies, the corporate lobbyists that resist strong safety and health rules with every trick in the book, and the corporations structured to put the bottom line before the health of consumers with reliable and ruthless certainty, how could I have done anything but to research the dickens out of every decision involving the health and safety of my family?

But I agree that this is no way for any of us to live. We should all be able to trust that the food we eat, the water we drink, and the products we use are safe and healthy for ourselves and for our children. In my humble opinion, we’re a long way from that reality. We should drop the snarky take-downs of moms who are doing their best for their families, and get serious about fixing the real problems: a lack of good information, transparency and accountability in our chemical and food safety systems.

Enacting real chemical safety reforms in Congress would be a good first step. My daughter Maya will be out there some day very soon, and it would be great if it were a better place – both for her and every other family’s poster child.

4 thoughts on “Media

  1. Hi Laura – just ran across your blog after spending way to much time considering sofa options as my husband hates our organic futons! I would be very interested in connecting with you. I am a health care regulatory attorney of 20+ years – former Jones Day and McDermott Will. Moved from California to the East Coast and am involved in health education and find that even parents of children with health issues are not very savvy. This is partly because doctors are not savvy and don’t motivate patients to learn more. I am very passionate about this as both my children had health issues and we found out we lived under an active oil well in a nice part of LA! Primarily, I’m also looking for some inspiration from like minded people. Karie

  2. I thought you might be interested in reading the Center for Environmental Health’s report released today about flame retardants in children’s play furniture. CEH tested 42 products and found flame retardant chemicals including Firemaster 550, TDCPP (chlorinated tris) and TCPP in these products. We are also calling upon Toys “R” Us to tell their suppliers that once the new regulation TB 117-2013 goes into effect that they will not purchase flame retarded products.

    Link to the report: http://www.ceh.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Kids-Furniture-Report-Press.pdf http://www.ceh.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Kids-Furniture-Report-Press.pdf

    Link to the action alert: http://www.ceh.org/get-involved/take-action/content/tell-toys-r-us-we-want-flame-retardant-free-childrens-products/

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