From A Science And Policy Analyst--5 Ways The Trump Administration Is Threatening Our Kids' Health

by Genna Reed
Originally Published: 
U.S. President Donald Trump
Mark Wilson/Getty

I am a mother to a toddler and have no shortage of worries. I worry about whether she’s being adequately socialized, whether she’s eating enough vegetables, or whether that was a Goldfish cracker or a rock that she just ate off the ground. Now, on top of these daily worries, the Trump administration is making that list longer. I now additionally have to worry about whether our government is protecting my kid from things as basic as air pollution, contaminated water, and unsafe products.

The Trump administration has abandoned our nation’s mission of protecting kids based on the best evidence. From unsafe strollers to harmful chemicals, I tell this story with a wide range of examples in a new Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report and illustrated story book Breathe in the Smog, Drink Up the Lead: A Grim Scary Tale for People Who Care about Kids. (Note: Don’t worry, the book meant to be read for kids, not to them).

Here are five ways that the President and those who work for him are actively making parenting harder while also threatening our children’s health (and a peek at some of the grim couplets from the storybook):

“Was shopping for family too much a safe bet?

Well here’s a new game: it’s called recall roulette!”

Children’s products might not be safe.

When creating a registry my daughter’s nursery, I trusted that the items were safe to use because if they weren’t, the Consumer Products Safety Commission would have caught defective products and required companies to recall them. Turns out it wasn’t safe to make that assumption. I used a hand-me-down infant sleeper for my newborn to take occasional naps in while I was in the room. What I didn’t know at the time, as a result of ineffective enforcement of safety regulations and industry lobbying, was that my daughter was never safe in those sleepers. Months later, as I started doing research on jogging strollers, I discovered that the CPSC again was failing to do its job, refusing to recall a stroller that was causing injuries in parents and children when the front wheel busted off, despite the advice of its own technical experts. Our analysis found that recalls of children’s products are lower than they’ve been in over a decade and dropped 60 percent from 2016 to 2018. This means the government is doing less to ensure my kid is safe when she is sleeping, eating, and playing.

Food might not be safe to eat.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Is it too much to ask that when we go to the grocery store, our only worry need be whether we got everything on the list with limited whines and tears? Unfortunately, we now have to make decisions about purchasing meat, not just out of nutritional or food preference considerations, but because our government made decisions that jeopardize hygiene and safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reduced the number of inspections at poultry and pork processing facilities while speeding up the conveyor belts, risking worker safety and their ability to catch defective or unsafe meat. Public health experts and former inspectors have spoken out against these rules because of the implications for the spread of foodborne illness, which is especially dangerous for children because of their developing immune systems. Yum.

“So long, clean water! Clean air, you’re dead!

Time to breathe in the smog and drink in the lead!”

Water might not be safe to drink.

Water is vital for life. That’s why there’s something insidious about government failing to keep our water safe. With kids in the house, it’s hard not to think about water since it is essential for breastmilk, formula, and the fruits and veggies they rely on for sustenance. The question of keeping water safe is not a scientific one, since we have the scientific and engineering knowledge needed to technically do it; it’s a political one, deciding which risks are acceptable to take for whom.

Parents in Flint, MI and Newark, NJ know all too well the consequences of a failure to protect kids from lead in water: there is no safe level of lead — even a small amount of it in the body has been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. Despite this, the Trump administration had the opportunity to take a major leap to protect children in its update to the Lead and Copper Rule, and instead shrank the number of lead service lines required to be replaced in half. This means the government is not doing its job to keep our water free from brain-damaging lead.

Another missed opportunity for strong action has come on protecting kids and families from exposure to the persistent chemicals used to make Teflon and repel water and grease in a range of household and industrial products: per- and polyfluoralkyl substances. There are hundreds of sites across the former or current manufacturers and users of PFAS that now have contaminated water. And without an enforceable health standard or a designation as hazardous waste, there is no requirement for polluters to pay to filter or otherwise clean up these sites. Despite issuing an action plan last February, there have been no meaningful improvements to keep Americans safe from PFAS. I found that nearly three million children attend schools or childcare facilities — and 3.6 million women of reproductive age live — within five miles of a contamination site. The agency is putting the lives of children and future generations at risk by failing to act proportionately to the public health implications of exposure to these toxic chemicals.

Air might be less safe to breathe.

All of us remember our kids’ first gasp of air when they enter the world. Over the course of our lives, our lungs filter air so that all of our cells have the oxygen they need to function. Unfortunately, the cleanliness of that air depends on who’s in power and where you live. Many communities have worse air because of pollution from oil and gas facilities, the tailpipes of cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants, and chemical manufacturers. And kids who breathe in highly polluted air are at greater risk of asthma attacks, respiratory infections, bronchitis, and even cancer. Rather than addressing this problem, the Trump administration has been trying to erase the safeguards that keep our air clean and our kids safe. With the added air pollution from the President’s actions, kids could face hundreds of thousands more asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses, and missed school days—harms that could have been easily prevented.

“What happens to kids when some not-so-nice men

Work in cahoots with their not-so-nice friends”

Our leaders have abandoned our shared values.

While my daughter is only saying a few words now, it continues to blow my mind how much she already understands and how much that expands every day. Since I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t help but worry about how I would eventually explain some of the actions taken, the rhetoric spoken, and the messages presented by the Trump administration. The office of the president in our country is highly respected and should be filled with someone who respects it and the people who make up this country. But, under this administration, we have witnessed a president who doesn’t listen to or care about the truth, doesn’t respect women, people of color, or people with disabilities, and cares more about his own financial interests than the integrity of our democracy. How can one teach a child to be respectful, kind, compassionate, and selfless when the most prominent figure in our country is simultaneously using a national stage to teach a generation to do the opposite?

“Friends, what if I told you, it’s you and it’s me

Who should hold the power in Washington, D.C.”

As parents, we have a duty to keep our kids safe and secure, which is why we need to ensure our elected officials prioritize children’s health and hold true to the values we instill in our kids every day. The more our government listens to us and acts with our best interests in mind, the less we have to worry. I’m certainly ready to shorten my worry list, aren’t you?

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