This month in the MOMSpot, we sit down with mom-to-be Katie Silberman of St. Louis, MO. Katie is Associate Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network.
Q:What is your focus as Associate Director at the Science and Environmental Health Network?
A: At SEHN, we work with communities and government agencies around the country to help implement local and state policies that protect our health and environment by preventing harm. We believe we have a responsibility to act as guardians for future generations — to practice the ancient belief that we should consider the effects of our actions on the next seven generations. Our American economic system is focused solely on the short term: quarterly earnings, constant growth. At SEHN, we believe that our health and the health of our ecosystems would be better served by making wiser decisions about the future: how we use our resources, what we are exposed to, how we want our communities to look and function.
Q: What led you to pursue a career in the environmental field?
A: I’ve been interested in women’s health since I was a teenager. This grew primarily from the pro-choice movement of the early ’90s,which was very present for us on college campuses at the time. My first job after college was in breast cancer advocacy, and I started wondering where all this cancer was coming from – what was causing these huge increases in incidence rates in such a short time? I was able to learn more about environmental causes of disease, and also social determinants of disease. So my interest in the environmental field has always been around environmental health- how pollution affects our bodies – and environmental justice, which is more of a social justice analysis of why some communities bear an unfair burden of toxins in their neighborhoods.
Q: You were instrumental in helping to pass the nation’s first Precautionary Principle ordinance in San Francisco. How do individual communities benefit from the Precautionary Principle?
A: The precautionary principle allows us to dream about the kind of future we want to create for our families and our communities. It gives us something to be for, not just something to be against. For individual communities, it gives us a chance to have real conversations with our neighbors about what our goals are as a community, what’s important to us, and what steps we can take to protect what we love.
Q: What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue in your community?
A: I find the skyrocketing incidence rates of childhood diseases linked to environmental exposures–childhood cancer, asthma, learning and behavioral disorders, autism – to be absolutely unconscionable. What bothers me most is that much of what kids are exposed to these days could be eliminated quite easily–these are just cost/benefit decisions made by industry and government that continuing to pollute our air, water and food is economically “worth it.” There are a few factors that make that untrue: first, we understand much more now about children’s special vulnerability to toxic chemicals in their bodies; second, many old manufacturing processes have safer alternatives – industries just don’t want to spend the money to switch; and third, it is becoming clear that we can’t keep pumping out pollution indefinitely and expect our bodies and our planet to keep absorbing it. There are biological limits to what we can handle, and we are rapidly bumping up against them. Soto make children suffer for the foolishness of adults is just unacceptable to me.
Q: How has pregnancy influenced your perspective on the connection between the health of the environment and the health of our bodies?
A: As Sandra Steingraber explains so eloquently, we ARE our babies’ first environment. Everything I’ve been exposed to in my life, everything I’m eating, drinking, touching and breathing, may have some fingerprint in the nutrients that my baby has been absorbing from my body for the past eight months. His body is quite literally made of my body. This includes many things I’ve chosen to put in my body, like organic food and clean water, but also many, many things that I never consented to, such mercury from power plants, diesel exhaust in the air, and pesticides in parks. At SEHN, we use the term “ecological medicine” to express the idea that our health and the health of our planet are inextricably interwoven. One does not exist without the other.
Q: If you could think thirty years from now what kind of a world would you like to see for your children?
A: I am deeply concerned about the increasing militarization and violence in our world, especially as I’m about to birth a male child. My most fervent wish for 30 years from now would be that we have learned to see all people, all species as inter-related. That would mean no more war, no more thinking that it’s okay to harm a fellow creature: with violence, toxic chemicals, hateful speech, or anything else. Instead we would believe that we’re all in this together, and we all win by treating other people’s children and other species’ children with the same love, respect and reverence with which we treat our own children.
- Birthing From Within
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
- Mothering Magazine
- The Center for Environmental Heath
- The Children’s Environmental Health Coalition
- The Oregon Environmental Council’s Tiny Footprints program