In 1974, an environmental scandal rocked my world. I and millions of other people living in the state of Michigan were informed that the milk we’d been drinking had come from cows that had accidentally been fed fire retardant instead of cow feed.
I don’t remember how much milk we’d all drunk before the mistake was discovered. I do remember watching the television news reports of the incident. Over 500 contaminated Michigan farms were quarantined. Approximately 30,000 cattle, 4,500 swine, 1,500 sheep, and 1.5 million chickens were destroyed, along with over 800 tons of animal feed, 18,000 pounds of cheese, 2,500 pounds of butter, 5 million eggs, and 34,000 pounds of dried milk products.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had watching millions of gallons of milk being destroyed. But what I also came to realize was that it was far easier to get rid of that tainted milk than it was to eliminate the fire retardants that had accumulated in my body as a result of drinking it. Fire retardants – also known as PBBs – cause cancer in lab animals and are thought to be endocrine disruptors – chemicals that interfere with hormones.
How many of you are mothers? How many people have or had a mother? That’s where so many environmental concerns begin, don’t they? After all, a mother's body is the first environment any of us experience. I remember thinking back in 1974, even though I wouldn’t have children for another 14 years, that perhaps my ability to have healthy babies had been compromised by drinking the most harmless thing in the world, a glass of milk.
Between then and now, I've had two children. I never had my breast milk tested for fire retardants. I never subjected my hair to analysis for heavy metals. I have not had my blood and urine examined to determine how many unnatural chemicals they contain.
But if I did, in all likelihood I'd discover a toxic soup of contaminants that I've been unwillingly exposed to and that now wait to surface in some kind of disease or cancer. Even worse, I would probably also discover a whole host of toxins – my personal "body burden" – that I have unwittingly passed on to my kids.
I started Big Green Purse as a way to protect ourselves from exposure to the toxins that cause our kids harm. Given the enormity of the challenges facing government, it may be years or decades before we significantly reign in the pollution that makes us sick. We must continue to press for stronger environmental health and safety laws and regulations. But let us not forget: The way we spend our money is our first line of defense.
As we observe this Mother's Day, let's renew our commitment to shifting our spending to products and services that offer the greatest health and safety benefits, not just for the planet, but for us and our children as well.