Besides appearing in "Flashdance" and "The L Word," Jennifer Beals played a different role in Washington Tuesday: lobbyist on Capitol Hill. The actress provided a touch of glamour to a "stroller brigade" of mothers, marching around the Capitol Building to increase awareness of toxic chemicals hiding in household products like toys, cosmetics, electronics and flooring.
"I am a mother and I am tired of feeling like I have to have a Ph.D in toxicology in order to be a competent parent," Beals shouted at the rally, calling out chemical companies and pleading with Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing greater regulation.
Tuesday's trip was Beals' second trip to Washington this year, appearing in support of the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which recruited the actress through Twitter. (She tweets a lot on the subject.) Beals is hoping lawmakers will update the Toxic Substances Control Act, which first passed in 1976 and hasn't received a major update since. A chemical reform bill introduced in May by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg -- the Chemical Safety Improvement Act -- doesn't go far enough, the activists believe.
On her first lobbying trip this April, Beals met with members of congress and found the experience "maddening," she told Whispers.
"Most people really understand it and were behind it...because it's a bipartisan issue, it's about protecting children and pregnant women and vulnerable communities -- so who's not going to get behind that?" she said of the conversations she had with lawmakers. "But every now and again I would hear, 'oh, well, we have this big plant in our district and we need to protect those jobs,' not understanding there's a way to protect those jobs, there's a way to grow those jobs, by changing the chemistry." (Beals' counterpoint is that "green chemicals" could be all the rage.)
This trip, Beals is meeting with Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who's also opposed to the current draft of the legislation, in part because it preempts California's stricter chemical laws. "I've never met her personally and I want to thank her and encourage her to augment the bill," Beals said.
Back at the rally, Beals is surrounded by moms, some with kids in strollers, others with kids untethered and running about. "I am tired of being a detective, hunting the Internet to find out what product is safe and what product is not safe and why," she said, calling for greater transparency. "I am tired of trying to shop my way around this problem, deeply aware that not everyone is able to do so," she said, asking for better labeling. "Let this serve as an eviction notice," she said of the toxins she didn't expect to find in common consumer goods.