W&E Symposium: Environmental Impacts on Women’s Health

Women, men, and children gathered at GVSU last Thursday for the Women & Environment Symposium

The Environmental Health Impacts panel presented a diverse conversation that ranged from the dangers of lead poisoning, to toxic chemicals found in everyday cosmetics. The panel consisted of Gayla Jewell of the Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center, Dr. Julia Mason a Professor of Women & Gender Studies at Grand Valley State University, and the program manager for Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, Courtney Myers-Keaton.

Myers-Keaton lead the discussion on lead poisoning and other dangerous chemicals found in old or dilapidated homes. According to Myers-Keaton, 73 children were poisoned by lead in Kent County last year. Lead poisoning most often comes from deteriorating lead-based paint found in homes built before 1978. Although any number above 0 is too high, the number of lead poisonings in Grand Rapids has significantly been reduced due in large part to HHC’s Get the Lead Out! program which made over 1,000 Grand Rapids homes lead-free.

Lead is one of several chemicals that threaten women’s and children’s health. “Every body is a repository for toxins. Women’s endocrine systems are more susceptible to toxins [than mens],” said Jewell. Children are at a greater risk of getting lead poisoning or receiving other toxins from hand-to-mouth habits and from pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

Jewell listed several dangerous toxins that are commonly found in lotions and make-up, parabens being specifically emphasized. Parabens are commonly found in lotions, shampoos and conditioners. Although the FDA considers parabens to be safe, they are often found in breast tumor biopsies and are known to disrupt hormone functionality.

“Anything you would not put in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin,” said Jewell during an explanation of how skin is extremely absorbent and putting unsafe toxins on skin is just as dangerous as digesting them. “I’m going home and throwing away all of my make-up and lotions,” said symposium attendee Rebekah Sauers.

“Respect and use the wisdom women have developed over the years,” said Dr. Julia Mason, “Buying the most expensive food and bottled water for the sake of health is an illusion,” said Dr. Mason who advocates for responsible eating practices, rather than using deceiving, well-advertised products.

Jewell agreed pointing out that olive oil causes soft skin just like the chemicals found in lotions but without negative side effects. But companies don’t advertise that, it’s something that we must learn from each other.

“We need to pay attention to what we are told is healthy,” said Dr. Kristin Bartels from the Food & Farming panel, “Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s destroying our bodies.”

The panelists suggested going to womenshealthandenvironment.org to learn more about how to interact with today’s environment in a healthy way.


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