What would you think if your OB-GYN started to have a serious conversation with you about shampoo and toothpaste? You would probably think it was strange and off-topic. But after September 23, conversations like this could join breast exams and contraceptive counseling as routine reproductive healthcare. And it's something to celebrate.
In an unprecedented move, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) issued a joint Committee Opinion on the threat of environmental chemicals, including those in our personal care products, and the need for chemical policy reform to protect reproductive health.
Why are OB-GYNs speaking out about the dangers of chemicals in our everyday environment and urging providers to educate their patients about it? Because they now know too much to stay quiet.
Babies are born pre-polluted with 200-300 chemicals already in their bodies; infertility among young women is on the rise and has doubled since the 1980s; sperm counts are lower than ever; around 50% of eight year old girls have begun puberty; and 1 in every 2 men and 1 in every 3 women are expected to have cancer in their lifetime. Expert findings reveal that the chemicals in our everyday environment are contributing to the prevalence of these issues at a troubling rate.
With the latest Committee Opinion, ACOG and ASRM join a growing chorus of concerned scientists, health advocates and medical providers in speaking out about the urgent need for chemical policy reform and patient education on how to avoid exposure, while we wait for Washington to act.
Jessica Arons, President & CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, remarked in a statement that "today's joint Committee Opinion from ACOG and ASRM in support of chemical policy reform signals a groundbreaking shift in the engagement of reproductive health professionals and advocates in the fight for chemical policy reform."
"The Committee Opinion recognizes that to ensure that women have healthy pregnancies, we must reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals and reform the way chemicals are regulated in this country," she added.
After an exhaustive review of scientific evidence from the last 15 years, medical experts agree that exposure to toxic chemicals in our everyday environment, from our favorite shampoo to the air we breathe, can explain much of our nation's declining reproductive health.
Specifically, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are to blame. They wreak havoc on the function of our endocrine system and the hormones it regulates. But the larger culprit is our inadequate and outdated chemical regulation system.
Our current laws are so broken that only 200 of the 80,000 chemicals in production today have been tested for safety. And only five have been regulated because the chemical industry is not required to perform safety tests before producing and using a new chemical.
"The scary fact is that we don't have safety data on most of these chemicals even though they are everywhere--in the air, water, soil, our food supply, and everyday products. To successfully study the impact of these chemical exposures, we must shift the burden of proof from the individual health care provider and the consumer to the manufacturers before any chemicals are even released into the environment," said Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD, president of ACOG.
Like all other systematic injustices in our nation, low-income communities, communities of color, and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by the harms of toxic chemicals. Poorer health outcomes in these communities reflect this truth and are compounded by a lack of access to quality and affordable healthcare.
Amidst the depressing decline in legislative efforts that respect a woman's ability to make reproductive healthcare decisions without political interference, chemical policy reform is a bright opportunity. Instead of posing as "gyneticians" and meddling in reproductive healthcare decisions best left to a woman and her family to navigate, or making immigrant women wait 15 years for healthcare, Members of Congress could be having a meaningful discussion about what we can do to better protect maternal and fetal health for the women who choose to become pregnant and carry a pregnancy to term.
Healthy pregnancies and healthy reproductive lives are part of the larger picture of reproductive freedom, alongside access to abortion care and contraception. That's why leading reproductive health experts are speaking out and advocating for chemical regulation policy changes that would protect and support reproductive health for all. Their opinion is one we can invest our trust in.