It’s amazing how life comes full circle. I became an environmentalist at an early age, growing up in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee—an exquisitely y beautiful area that, like many natural areas, exists in the shadows of nuclear waste dumps. After my family moved on to Nevada, then Georgia and Maryland, conversations about cancer clusters and polluted waters measured my comprehension of the stunning landscapes in which I lived.
This was my first understanding of how the environment affects our health. And I went on to have a career—as a lawyer, presidential campaign staffer, U.S. Senate counsel and policy expert—in order to play my part in shaping our government’s role in both areas.
But it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I truly understood, on a personal level, how a toxic environment could threaten my family.
I was nine months pregnant, living in Mount Shasta, California and so excited to meet my daughter! But then I read the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “10 Americans” report, which shared findings of hundreds of chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.
Talk about a light-bulb moment. I was stunned. How could babies be born pre-polluted? I was doing everything I could to protect my baby—and this report was telling me it wasn’t enough. I didn’t understand why every parent in America wasn’t up in arms. That study made me recommit my professional life to help safeguard the public—especially children—from environmental hazards.
Three years later, I became EWG’s chief of staff and general counsel; today, I’m the executive director. And I’m so proud of our organization’s role as the most effective environmental organization in the country.
At EWG, we dig deep to uncover key information that the public has a right to know, such as polluted water, toxic chemicals in cosmetics and questionable farm practices. Our goal is to create resources that consumers can use to make healthier choices: Our Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce and EWG’s Guide to Green Cleaners rate the toxicity and share ingredient lists on more than 80,000 products.
These issues affect all of us in a very personal way. They affect our lives and our livelihood. Protecting our health and our environment—that’s everyone’s right.
I believe that the environment is not some distant reality. It’s the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the food that we eat; it’s the products we put onto our skin and bring into our homes.
Yes, as EWG’s executive director, being committed to a healthy environment is my job. But it goes much further than that for me. Above all, the most important role that I play is mom to my two daughters. I feel a personal responsibility to create a healthier world for them—and for future generations. I’m grateful that my work has allowed me to help shape a healthier future for them—and for all of us.
That’s what makes me excited to come to work in the morning, and equally excited to come home at night and tell them all about it. Because when they ask me what I do for a living, I can tell them I’m doing my part to change the world.
Heather White, EWG Executive Director
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed by Heather White, the EWG, and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Pregnancy Awareness Month (PAM) or any employee thereof. PAM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by Heather White and the EWG.