Mother’s Day Ethics

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Steven Gilbert, founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders and Toxipedia, give a talk entitled “The Ethics of Epigenetics.” Epigenetics, an increasingly important concept in environmental health, introduces the possibility that environmental exposures can have trans-generational impacts. That is, certain compounds may be able to alter the way in which genes are expressed, so the effects of these exposures can manifest in the children and grandchildren of the exposed population.

As a graduate student in toxicology, the idea of epigenetics was not new to me. However, Dr. Gilbert incorporated a critical ethical dimension to his discussion that was inspiring and moving. He suggested the obvious yet often not explicit enough implication of epigenetics: that it demands an altered framework for policy and action, since what we are being exposed to (most of the time, without our consent) may impact not only ourselves but also future generations.

Mother’s Day may be an especially appropriate time to think about the consequences of epigenetics. As I celebrate my mother, I can’t help but think about how her mother’s exposures may have impacted her life and her health. I wonder the same about myself: how will my life course and health be affected by my mother’s and my grandmother’s exposures to chemicals? And, similarly, what about the effects of my own exposure to unregulated chemicals on my future children? (I should note, though, that epigenetic changes can also be passed down on the paternal side.)

How can we end this cycle? What will it take to ensure that Mother’s Day can be a celebration of family health instead of a reminder of family exposures and disease?

The only real solution is reform of the nation’s severely outdated and ineffective chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). We need a TSCA reform that is robust and can gain bipartisan support – now. Further delay is unethical, putting ourselves and our children at risk.

Previously Published EDF Health Blog posts

Before starting graduate school, I worked in the Health Program at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). During that time, I published numerous posts on the EDF Health and EDF Voices blog sites. Links to these posts can be found below (in reverse chronological order):

EDF Health Blog

A gift for mothers (and daughters, and all of us): New tools for breast cancer monitoring and prevention (May 2014)

Unnerving developments in the state of the evidence on developmental neurotoxicity (Feb 2014)

Maybe not surprising, but still upsetting: New report highlights role of election-year politics in OIRA delays (Dec 2013)

NGOs ask Senators to investigate chronic delays in OMB’s review of TSCA regulatory actions (Sept 2013)

EDF comments at EPA workshop on applying systematic review methodology to IRIS assessments (Aug 2013)

My mother is not Angelina Jolie (May 2013)

April brings showers…and a flurry of new studies on the risks of perfluorinated chemicals (April 2013)

“Toxic Clout” shines a much-needed light on the chemical industry’s undue influence over toxic chemical decisions (March 2013)

21st Century on the horizon for endocrine disruptor screening? (Jan 2013)

Variety is the spice of … accurate chemical testing (Jan 2013)

EDF Voices Blog

Why Latinos are disproportionately affected by asthma, and what we can do (April 2014)

Toxic chemicals: The unwanted gifts that keep on giving (Dec 2013)

Either change the system or risk another “Silent Spring” (Dec 2013)