California bill would warn pregnant women about prenatal chemical exposures

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GLSBy Gretchen Lee Salter, Breast Cancer Fund Senior Policy Manager

Last December, I read an article about a survey of 2,600 obstetricians and gynecologists in which most reported that they don’t warn their pregnant patients about the dangers of exposure to chemicals in food, consumer products or the environment.

I wasn’t surprised.

When I was pregnant with my daughter three years ago, no one in my doctor’s office mentioned anything about the potential risks associated with chemical exposures, nor did they mention anything about the steps I could take to avoid these exposures. Now in my second pregnancy, not only did my OB-GYN not mention this issue, she dismissed my concerns as a “long-term” problems. Since I plan on being a mother long-term, I’m disappointed that my concerns were brushed aside.

It isn’t as though the information isn’t out there. It is. The Program for Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco has been warning women about the dangers of toxic exposures for years. But, sadly, most women are still in the dark about the dangers associated with prenatal exposure to certain chemicals.

That’s why the Breast Cancer Fund teamed up with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the March of Dimes to draft legislation in California requiring that this information be made available to pregnant women.

Senate Bill 460, authored by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a longtime friend and supporter of the Breast Cancer Fund, would mandate that information about environmental health be provided to women during their prenatal care. Existing law requires that medical professionals in California provide pregnant women with a pamphlet on prenatal testing. If SB 460 passes, this pamphlet would include an insert about toxic chemical exposures. The bill would also encourage OB-GYNs and midwives to discuss environmental health with their patients.

It’s a simple bill and an idea that is long overdue. And the state legislature seems to agree. In May, the bill passed the state Senate with unanimous support, and this week it was approved by a key Assembly committee, again with unanimous support.

The bill will be up for a full vote in the Assembly in the next few weeks, where it is expected to pass. Then it is on to Gov. Brown for his signature. We’ll keep you updated on its progress.

In the meantime, I intend on keeping myself and my doctor informed about the risks and, hopefully, in the near future, my doctor and thousands of others will be the ones initiating these conversations with patients.

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