Portraits illustrate the dangers of toxic chemical exposure

On Tuesday 13 November at 7 pm, the Lyric Theater and Cultural Arts Center will host a photography exhibition focused on Kentucky women. Titled “Burden of Proof: Living with Toxic Chemicals,” the exhibit features portraits of three grassroots activists who are advocating for policies that would reduce women’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

Kentucky photographers captured images of three Kentucky women who link their health problems, or that of their families, to environmental root causes.  The exhibit is designed to help convey their stories on film and foster dialogue with Kentuckians on the need for industry and policy action that can improve our health.

Guest speakers at the event will include other notable African American women taking action on environmental health and justice, including Eboni Cochran of the Louisville environmental justice group REACT, and Monica Unseld, PhD, health advocate and an expert in endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Elizabeth Crowe, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), believes the exhibit will help raise awareness about the subject. “These women are claiming their rights to both a healthy body and a safe environment for their kids and grandchildren,” she says.

According to a study released in 2008, at least two hundred toxic chemicals are present in the umbilical cords of pregnant women. Exposure to these chemicals comes from contact with every day products, including canned foods, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, shower curtains, furniture and computers. Numerous studies have concluded that the chemicals accumulate in the body and are associated with skyrocketing rates of breast cancer, reproductive diseases, autism, asthma and other diseases.

African-American communities are often at a greater risk for health problems from exposure to chemicals through products and from exposure to pollution from chemical or fossil fuel facilities. For example, studies show that African-American women have higher levels of the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA), and cosmetic products designed for African-American women are linked to reproductive system disorders.  A recent report from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that after being diagnosed with breast cancer, which is linked to toxic chemical exposures, fifty percent of African-American women are more likely to die from the disease than white women.

“As a black woman, these statistics hit very close to home for me,” says KEF Community Educator Andrea Watts James, from Lexington. “We’re trying to spread the word in that we need to be careful what we bring into our homes, and also that we can work together for safer, healthier solutions.”

The event is free and open to the public and will feature light refreshments. “Burden of Proof” is sponsored by KEF and a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and will run through the Lexington Gallery Hop on November 16th.