Smarter Living: Pregnancy
Babies Born Prepolluted
Photo: Paul Goyette
Toxic chemicals--some known to cause cancer--are in our bodies and in our newborns as well. Researchers have found some 300 contaminants--industrial chemicals, consumer product ingredients, pesticides and pollutants from burning fossil fuels--in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, rendering our babies 'pre-polluted' according to the esteemed scientists and medical experts of the President's Cancer Panel.
In a landmark report released in May 2010, the panel appointed by President Bush declared: "The American people--even before they are born--are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures." Blaming the situation on weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary, the panelists advised President Obama, to whom they report, "to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation's productivity and devastate American lives."
"Some types of cancer are increasing rapidly," including thyroid, kidney and liver cancers, according to Richard Clapp, a professor of environmental health at Boston University's School of Public Health and one of the nation's leading cancer epidemiologists. Other cancers, including lung and breast cancer, have declined.
We don't know why some types of cancer are becoming more common but the proliferation of chemicals in water, food, air and household products is widely thought to be a factor. The panel listed a variety of carcinogenic compounds that many people routinely encounter. Included are benzene and other petroleum-based pollutants in vehicle exhaust, arsenic in water supplies, chromium from plating companies, formaldehyde in kitchen cabinets and other plywood, bisphenol A in plastics and canned foods, tetrachloroethylene at dry cleaners, PCBs in fish and other foods and various pesticides.
Consumers shouldn't need a PhD to be sure the products they bring into their homes and yards are safe for their families. Which is why it is so essential that Congress reform the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) and take appropriate steps to improve the safety of chemicals on the market. Some 80,000 chemicals are produced and used in the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been able to require testing on just 200 and only FIVE have been regulated under the Toxics Substances Control Act. Even asbestos, known to cause lung cancer, has not been entirely banned from use in commercial products because of flaws in the law.
We need a better chemical management system. We need a law that adequately protects Americans. Senator Lautenberg (NJ) introduced legislation in April 2010--the Safe Chemicals Act--intended to tighten up regulation of problem chemicals and require testing of new chemicals before they were allowed for use in commerce. It's not a perfect bill, but it's a great start. Urge your senators and representatives to engage in the debate and take action to strengthen TSCA.
The Panel also suggests these measures to begin reducing your risk today:
- Choose foods, house and garden products, toys, medicines and medical tests that will minimize exposure to toxic substances.
- Filter tap water, and store water in stainless steel, glass or other containers to avoid exposure to BPA and other plastic components that some studies have linked to health problems.
- Buy produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, or washing it thoroughly to remove them.
- Buy meat free of antibiotics and added hormones and avoiding processed, charred and well-done meat.
last revised 12/29/2011