Toxics Campaign Advocates Tell Their Stories

Earlier this year, we started a new blog series to share some stories of advocates in our toxics and environmental health campaigns. We’ feature their bios, including what they do, how they got involved, and why this work so important to them. We hope this will help show a personal side to the many faces representing the coalition. If you’re interested in sharing your story, please contact us at info@healthytomorrow.org.

Today’s story comes from Mimi Pomerleau, who became involved with the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow almost two years ago.

Here’s what Mimi had to say:

I work as an OB nurse and knew a little about the problems associated with environmental exposure to chemicals as I had attended a conference on the effects of phthalates in medical products but quite frankly it seemed to be too much information to sort through and fully understand so it was easier to ignore this issue. It wasn’t until I attended the Theresa Heinz Women and the Environment Program in Boston that I got involved and made an effort to learn more to inform and advocate for the patients I care for. At this program, during a panel discussion on BPA, a local newscaster made a comment wondering why her nurse or doctor did not tell or warn her about BPA when she was pregnant and delivered her baby last year. I sat in the audience and wanted to sink under the table-she was talking about me!  It was my professional responsibility yet I did not know enough about the issue to discuss it with my patients. I was determined to learn more.

I realized that as an OB nurse, it is my personal and professional responsibility, particularly for vulnerable populations such as newborns, so I started getting involved and doing some research. I went online to learn about BPA and chemical exposures. I learned about the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow. I signed up for some of AHT’s programs and I attended their mock debate on BPA about a year and a half ago. I looked online to find information, contacted the Environmental Working Group, and then got involved with monthly conference calls with a Nurses Working Group.

Then through my contact with AHT, I volunteered for a biomonitoring project of healthcare professionals with the Physicians for Social Responsibility.  My blood and urine were tested for the presence of common chemicals including phthalates, triclosan, and BPA. I certainly did have these chemicals in my body!  My levels were fairly low, and at first I was falsely reassured but then realized that there is no need for these chemicals to be in my body in the first place. If I and the other 20 participants in the biomonitoring study had these chemicals in our bodies then they most likely are in all of us. Many of these chemicals are cause for concern in adults but studies have demonstrated greater risks for fetal and child development. Hence my patients are at greatest risk from exposure to environmental toxins.

We decided that we needed to get the word out, and it’s difficult because there are so many sources of information that sometimes conflict with one another. The Massachusetts Section of the Association of Women’s Health Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) and AHT partnered to develop an educational program. We presented this program in three locations across the state and we’re planning another one in April.

As a nurse educator I’ve also made sure that this information about exposures is included in the curriculum for nursing students. We try to educate about how best to avoid exposures for our patients and ourselves, but then we also recognize the need for safer laws to protect us. This is where we need to be advocates for ourselves and our patients because it is our professional responsibility, particularly for those of us who care for the most vulnerable populations. We must be aware and we must educate others so that we can make a difference.