In 2012, 10 Americans were tested for 413 toxic chemical pollutants. These 10 individuals had never breathed the air, drank tap water, consumed food from the grocery store or used personal care products. They weren’t farm workers or factory workers. They were babies yet to be born. The study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, found that babies are born pre-polluted with as many as 300 chemicals in their bodies, an average of 200 chemicals in each baby. This was the first study since the beginning of the chemical revolution to examine umbilical cord blood to determine whether chemicals were passed on to babies in the womb, babies who are at the most vulnerable time in their lives for they lack any blood brain barrier. Scientists and physicians hoped that babies were protected in the womb, that chemicals were filtered out by the placenta. They were not. Industrial pollution begins in the womb. Among the chemicals detected in these babies were: 28 different waste byproducts, including dioxins and PCBs; 47 different consumer product ingredients from flame retardants, teflon chemicals and Scotch-guard in furniture, clothing and cookware. Most alarming, the blood of these babies contained 212 industrial chemicals and pesticides banned over 30 years ago.
Not all chemicals detected in their blood cause biological damage, however it is reason for great concern. We must do all we can to minimize exposures to industrial chemicals for the most vulnerable, babies and children. Among the chemicals detected, 134 have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals; 151 are associated with birth defects; 154 cause hormone disruption; 186 are associated with infertility; 130 are toxic to the immune system; 158 are neurotoxins such as lead, mercury, and PCBs, known to have profound effects on the developing child, and on intelligence and motor coordination. One will note that there are more health effects than chemicals because many cause multiple effects. No one knows the effects of these toxic industrial chemicals in combination.
“The combined evidence suggests that neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals has created a silent pandemic in modern society.” ~Lancet, November 8, 2006.
The chemical industry claims there is no reason to worry because the doses are so low; blood levels of these chemicals are present in parts per billion (PPB). Can a chemical found at this tiny dose cause harm? Industry tells us one PPB is equal to one pancake in a stack 4000 miles high, therefore, this dose is infinitesimal and inconsequential.
What is known about the dose and effect of common drugs on the market? Albuterol, the ingredient in asthma inhalers, will stop an attack in one dose of 2 PPB. Paxil, a common anti-depressant, is effective at one dose of 30 PPB. A frequently prescribed birth control drug is active at 0.035 PPB, less than 4/100s of a pancake in the stack described above, Nuvaring is nearly 100% percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Cialis is a popular drug used for erectile dysfunction at a dose of 30 PPB. One dose is effective for 36 hours, may cause loss of hearing and vision, and the drug insert advises the man to contact his doctor if he experiences an erection lasting more than four hours. There is no question that drugs or chemicals in tiny doses can have profound effects. Imagine the Cialis user who experiences a four-hour complication, can’t see or hear, and needs to call his doctor.
Babies in the womb are exposed to powerful industrial chemicals. Industry has manufactured and sold these chemicals for decades. Between 1975 and 2002, an 84% increase in acute lymphocytic leukemia in children cannot be explained by genetics alone. Chemicals are implicated in the birth defect hypospadia, a deformation of the penis where the urethra does not come out at the end but somewhere else along the shaft. The prevalence has doubled over that same time period and now affects 1 out of every 125 baby boys born in the US. It requires surgery within days or months after birth.
In this same 25-year-or-so time period, there has been a 57% increase in childhood brain cancer. Learning and developmental disabilities, including autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, affect nearly one in six U.S. children, as of 2008. Since 1997, prevalence of autism increased nearly 300% nationally.
Skyrocketing health problems are not limited to children. About 7.3 million American couples have difficulty becoming pregnant or carrying the baby to term, a 40% increase in the last 30 years, with greatest increase in women of child bearing age under 25 years old. Sperm count is decreasing by 1% per year in the US and Europe, a total decrease of 50% since the 1930s. One in eight women will develop breast cancer. For all cancers, one in three women and one in two men will develop cancer during their lifetime. All of us know a family member or friend who has battled and died of cancer.
There is no escape, but we must limit these exposures and protect children. We are not protected from a multitude of chemicals owing to a very weak law passed in 1976. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was not modernized for 40 years. Grandfathered into this act were 62,000 industrial chemicals that were presumed safe. The law does not require any health or safety studies before a new chemical enters the market. Of the chemicals that come to the EPA for approval, 80% are approved within three weeks. In the history of TSCA, only five chemicals have been banned or restricted by the EPA under the law. When it was first proposed that asbestos be banned, it was challenged in court and the case was lost. The law protects polluters, corporations, and their profits not people and public health.
There have been many successes. We have cleaned up industries, air, and water. Lead levels in human blood plummeted since 1975 with the introduction of lead-free gasoline and paint, although lead is still a problem in inner cities where old paint containing lead is often in old, low-income housing. Levels of PCBs and DDT in blood plummeted since these chemicals were banned in the 1970s, but they were found in the blood of babies in the womb over 40 years after they were banned. Persistent organic chemicals should not be introduced into the environment at all.
In 2008, US Senator Frank R. Lautenberg introduced the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act (KSCA). It requires that chemicals be safe for children and others who are sensitive. It assumes that chemicals harm people unless proven otherwise. This law requires companies to prove their chemicals are safe before entering the market. But, there are as many as 85,000 chemicals in active use. This law as introduced prioritizes safety reviews, bans, and phase-outs based on what’s found in people and there is evidence that they are hazardous. Chemicals found in umbilical cord blood are presumed unsafe. Companies that manufacture and sell these chemicals will be required to prove that they are safe on an expedited basis to remain on the market.
“Our government lacks the ability to regulate even known dangers such as lead, formaldehyde and asbestos.” Richard Denison, Environmental Defense Fund scientist, Senate hearing testimony.
This bill died in Congress the next year. In 2013, a new bill was introduced, now named The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. In December of 2015, the Senate passed a bill to reform the TSCA. Earlier the House of Representatives passed a version that differed. Once agreed to, this bill may soon arrive at the desk of the President to sign into law. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Progress, albeit slow.
One can imagine that the revision to the TSCA has undergone a multi-million dollar industry campaign to use the law to protect their profits. Purportedly, the House version of the bill passed was written largely by the American Chemical Council. It contains a provision to shield Monsanto, the sole producer of PCBs, from liability. This corporation faces hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits from cities and communities whose environment has been poisoned by PCBs. The Senate version would supersede laws in Maine, California and four other states to limit children’s exposure to chemicals. These states could no longer decide for themselves what chemicals would be prohibited, targeted for ban and phase out. States would wait for EPA decisions on each chemical. As many as 1000 chemicals still on sale today must be evaluated to determine whether they should be banned or restricted.
In 2008, Maine was the first state in the nation to pass its own KSCA law. Chemicals to be banned and phased out were identified. Products that contained harmful chemicals could not be sold. Unfortunately, the LePage administration declared that the restrictions were bad for business and the science was unfounded, even though the science is backed by hundreds of reputable scientists and organizations. In Maine, we have the ability to reinstate the KSCA as originally legislated, but we soon lost that right.
We must contact our US and State Legislators and Senators. Read everything we can about environmental chemicals in our food, our home and our workplace from credible sources. Non-partisan organizations, unaffiliated with corporations, that present solid scientific information to the public include: The Environmental Working Group (EWG), The Collaborative on Health and the Environment, Theo Colborn’s Endocrine Disruption Exchange and the EPA (at least until the Trump presidency and his effort to dismantle the agency). Due to the diligent work of these organizations and others, the TSCA was passed into law on June 22, 2016 with no protections for Monsanto liability.The EWG recently reported on the chemicals targeted for elimination.
That effort could be lost.
Ask questions. Ask what you can do in your local community. Support local organic farms and buy their products. Establish seed banks. Focus on greater local self-sufficiency. Above all, assure that the laws our representatives and senators vote for reflects its original intention for reforms. Get involved in local and national organizations that educate and advocate for health and environment. We can all be informed consumers, cognizant of the products we buy and the companies we support. We do have a voice, and if that voice is unheard, we have the ability to vote for those that will represent us, those who will fight for what is important to us.
Be informed, the following changes that threaten the environment and our health have occurred since the Trump presidency. Just to name a few actions, the administration has already:
•Appointed Scott Pruitt, the most controversial and anti-environment candidate to ever lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
•Deleted nearly all mentions of climate change from the White House website, just moments after President Trump took his oath of office.
•Issued a temporary media blackout and freeze on EPA grants used to protect drinking water and air.
•Nominated former fertilizer salesman and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture. Perdue has not only received more than $278,000 in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies, but has also received political contributions from food giants, farm chemical companies and farm lobbyists.
What will you do, knowing that babies in the womb are exposed to over 200 toxic industrial chemicals?
This post contains information from the EWG about their study of toxic chemicals in the blood of newborn babies. See the video here.