Not Under My Roof

Olivia Newton-John, Kelly Preston and Nancy Chuda Speak Out for Children

After her five-year-old daughter, Colette, died from a nonhereditary form of childhood cancer, Nancy Chuda knew something in the environment was terribly wrong (see "What Killed Colette Chuda," cover story, May/June 1995). Personal experience has taught celebrity mothers Olivia Newton-John and Kelly Preston the same, and they have since become eloquent spokespeople for the Children"s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC), which Chuda co-founded 10 years ago. In CHEC"s new video Not Under My Roof, Newton-John and Preston illustrate simple ways to childproof a home against invisible environmental toxins. When the three mothers spoke with E in May, they were on their way to share the video with another influential group of parents—those elected to Capitol Hill.

E: In the video, there are a lot of scenes of children playing, putting their hands in their mouths and running barefoot across the lawn.

CHUDA: A small child is terrestrial and tactile. They"re mouthing, feeling and experimenting. Therefore, they"re inadvertently being exposed to invisible bullets.

PRESTON: Their bodies are so much smaller, and they"re breathing at much more frequent rates. Pound for pound, whether they"re palming something or inhaling, they"re taking in far more chemicals than adults do. And it"s far more dangerous.

Kelly, do you watch your daughter, Ella Bleu, crawling on the floor and think about those things?

P: Absolutely! Everything goes into her mouth. We have a nontoxic home. We don"t use any chemicals or pesticides, and we didn"t use any harmful materials when renovating our house. When I"m somewhere that I can"t control, it scares me.

Have you always felt that way?

P: I have another child, Jett, and I didn"t think that way before I had him. When he was two years old, he became very ill. We almost lost him because of the off-gassing of carpet chemicals. We thought we were making a safe environment for him by having our home cleaned, but it was actually far more dangerous.

Nancy and Jim Chuda with their close friend and Children’s Health Environmental Coalition co-founder Olivia Newton-John.

NEWTON-JOHN: When you have a new baby, your instinct is to clean and spruce up the carpet and paint the walls. If something smells clean, people think it must be clean. Actually, that smell is chemical, and it can be very toxic to a child.

How important is it for the average person to serve organic food and use nontoxic cleaners to help protect children"s health?

P: Look at the statistics. Cancer has risen even among adults: lymphoma, brain cancer, testicular and ovarian cancer. Something"s happening—it"s not all hereditary.

C: This is not being overprotective or too cautious. Once a grassroots wave starts to permeate, you"re going to see corporate America stand up and pay attention. You"ll see major manufacturing companies with greener and safer products. But that can only happen through education.

Do you feel that hearing the issue from a celebrity gives it more credibility?

N-J: We hope so, but it doesn"t matter. The main thing is that it gets our foot in the door so people will listen. We"re mothers, we"re concerned about our children, and we want to help other people protect their children.

P: We"re really mothers who happen to be celebrities who are telling the truth. And if that does open a door, then great.

N-J: In protecting our children, we"re protecting ourselves. The whole planet is a living, breathing entity with animals and plants that we also have to think of. If we can stop this madness now, then maybe by the time our children grow up, we can help heal it somehow.

How can people start this process?

P: You can start in your home and become a good example. Protect your own children and then help your friends, relatives and community organizations. It has a wonderful ripple effect.

N-J: Start training your children when they"re young to think before they act, which is what we should all be doing.

What kind of impact do you hope this video has on Congress?

C: If our elected representatives don"t understand this issue, then they can"t best represent their constituencies, and we"ll never see laws that are going to protect the most vulnerable—children, the elderly and pregnant women. Some have declined to attend our presentation based on the principles of the campaign, and I"m concerned about that—I don"t understand how they could argue this issue.

Do you think there"s anything controversial in the video that people wouldn"t agree with?

P: Not unless you are in the pocket of a chemical company.

Not Under My Roof is CHEC’s powerful new video featuring Newton-John and Kelly Preston.

C: President Bush has an incredibly sordid past. He comes from the state of Texas, one of the most polluted states in the nation. He helped create the pollution—as governor, he was in business with the polluting industries. And he took that mentality to Washington. He doesn"t want to see that children are at risk. It"s going to take the power of the public to influence individual members of Congress and the President. That"s what CHEC is trying to do.

Nancy, do you feel that Colette"s message is being heard?

C: Not a day goes by when I don"t think about her and feel her. There is no greater pain than the loss of a child—no greater pain. Think about a human life at the age of five, with all of the joys and wonderment and future, and then all of that taken away when it could have been prevented. I want to help another mother prevent these things from happening.

Colette died of childhood cancer and, Olivia, you battled breast cancer. Do you feel as though it"s the same fight in the end?

N-J: It very well could be. We"re finding correlations between breast cancer and pesticides and other chemicals right now. It"s an extra concern for me because I have a daughter, and she now has a genetic disposition for it that was never in our family before. I hate that feeling. I want to be able to tell her she"s not going to get it and that the world is going to be a safe place for her.

How do you keep from feeling overwhelmed?

N-J: You cannot live in fear. You have to just make the changes you can make. We don"t want to frighten anyone. We want to suggest some simple things you can do to help decrease the risk. The issue"s really overwhelming to all

of us. You just have to embrace the day and think how lucky you are to be surviving, and believe that you will. And do what you can to protect the little ones, because they"re so wonderful. That"s my feeling.

P: That"s all of our feelings.