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A Mother’s Day Plea: Environmental Etiquette!

By SafetyNEST Communications Advisor

Holly Finn:

I'm not sure how I survived without An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy, published six years ago by National Geographic. Did you know traditional Tibetan Buddhists believe “When a child is born, foul spirits are too – and they must be flushed out in order that the baby grow properly both mentally and physically”?

This is a blow not just for the baby but the whole family: “Immediately following the birth, other people in the community traditionally avoid the home of the newborn, considering it ‘polluted’.” A few days later, instead of arranging deliveries of sweet Kissy Kissy outfits and so-soft Jelly Cat animals, they hold pang sai – a foulness cleansing ceremony. This may sound primitive, but every tradition has its merits and let's not get too high-horsey. If we’re not careful we may soon need precisely the same kind of party.

The stats are stunning – a whopping 80,000 chemicals are allowed in the US and the EPA requires toxicity testing on just 200. So it shouldn’t be shocking – but of course, it still is - that a full 10% of pre-term births and birth defects are attributable to toxic chemicals. Plus, $340B in healthcare costs and lost wages result from toxins, in the US alone.

That’s just rude. At minimum, it seems very bad manners to give our children problems they can’t fight, before they even hit daylight. A recent UCSF study found that virtually every pregnant woman in the US has at least 43 toxic chemicals in her body.

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We mothers spend hours teaching our children to say please and thank you, to keep their elbows off the table and brush their hair before they go out. Endlessly, we train them to be thoughtful of others, polite and kind, aware of the people and world around them as much as themselves. Yet, before they even get here, we allow them to be on the receiving end of a host of environmental insults.

That's the technical term: In medicine, an “insult” is the cause of a physical or mental injury. Insults range from chemical to radioactive to foreign, genetic and environmental. Some of these affronts we cannot control, of course. But those we can – the toxins in our home, for instance, in everything from hand lotion to bedding - we absolutely should.

So this mother’s day, let’s show some exemplary environmental etiquette. Let’s share whatever we know about health in our immediate environment with the women to our left and right, especially those who are pregnant or planning to be. And let’s pledge to get smarter on our kids' behalf - about everything from phthalates on up. Protecting the next generation's health isn't just our job, it's the polite thing to do.​


SafetyNEST Communications Advisor Holly Finn is a speechwriter in Silicon Valley. She's the former Marvels columnist of The Wall Street Journal, where she wrote about how science and technology are changing us. Prior to that, she headed the editorial team at Google. Holly got her start in London as the editor of How To Spend It at the Financial Times, and leader writer at The Times. She's the author of one book so far: The Baby Chase, about fertility and its opposite. Holly holds an MBA from NYU-Stern and a BA from Yale.


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