The Great Lakes states are home to an abundance of agricultural and industrial commerce resulting in the use and release of excessive amounts of toxic chemicals. Minnesota alone uses millions of pounds of pesticides every year, including toxins known to be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and reproductive toxins that leach into the groundwater, often at levels exceeding health risk limits.
Approximately 80,000 chemicals, most of which did not exist before the 1940’s, are currently used in the United States.That number grows by about 2,500 every year. In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency studied 2,863 of the most commonly used chemicals and found that no toxicity information was available for 43% of them, and full toxicity data was available for only 7%. The hazard levels of most of these chemicals are unknown.
These possibly toxic chemicals are everywhere – in our homes, the clothes we wear, the water we drink, the toys our children play with, and the food we eat.These hazardous chemicals are having a disastrous effect on the health and well being of our children. Children and fetuses are more vulnerable to chemical exposures than adults. According to the American Lung Association, asthma in children increased more than 72% between 1973 and 1994. The National Cancer Institute reports that childhood brain and nervous system cancers in children aged 0 to 4 rose 53%, and non-hodgkins lymphoma in teenagers jumped 128% in the same time period. Learning disabilities jumped an astounding 191% between 1977 and 1994 according to the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, and 1 in every 200 children now suffers from developmental or neurological problems caused by exposure to toxic substances.
In response to this alarming trend, hundreds of national and state organizations have launched BE SAFE, a nationwide initiative to protect children’s health and the natural environment through a “better safe than sorry”precautionary approach. The BE SAFE coalition is spearheaded by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
The Environmental Association for Great Lakes Education (EAGLE) is coordinating the efforts of local organizations and individuals in Minnesota that have united to plan activities and events to be held over the next year and a half. The BE SAFE coalition is focusing on attaining regulatory policies requiring safe alternatives for chemicals, products, and technologies that cause harm to peoples’ health or the environment. After reviewing the problems and concerns of Minnesota communities, EAGLE and its partners have decided to focus initially on the health risks associated with contaminated drinking water, pesticides and mercury. “We live in a state known for its thousands of lakes, yet of the 900 tested, 99% have mercury-contaminated fish,” stated Janelle Sorensen, the Minnesota BE SAFE campaign coordinator.
The BE SAFE campaign in Minnesota will highlight and coordinate the efforts of local organizations working on the
aforementioned issues, and hopes to work with Governor Pawlenty in his efforts to protect and restore Minnesota’s
waters as outlined in the clean water initiative he introduced in June. The entire BE SAFE coalition is calling on government and industry to heed early warning signs and prevent toxic exposures to children by taking a preventative approach.
The BE SAFE campaign is gathering hundreds of thousands of endorsements by organizations and individuals to present to the newly elected President in 2005 during the first 100 days of office. The campaign outlines the critical need for government and industry to institute a “better safe than sorry” approach motivated by caution and prevention to protect children from harmful chemical and radioactive exposures and to avoid illnesses.