You'll want to take action after reading the Environmental Working Group's latest cord blood report, released today, just days after the Washington Toxics Coalition report about chemicals in the pregnant women, which I recently wrote about. The results are devastating but not surprising. I urge you to read them at length.
The EWG tested the cord blood of 10 minority newborns. (Cord blood is the blood remaining in the placenta and umbilical cord after birth. EWG would have liked to do more, certainly, but it's about $10,000 per baby and their pockets aren't that deep.) They tested for some of the same offenders they tested for in 2005. And they tested for some new ones, including:
Bisphenol A, a.k.a. BPA, a ubiquitous ingredient in plastics and coatings that's been linked to a range of health problems, including cancer. (The Food and Drug Administration, which has to date sanctioned the use of BPA as safe, was to release a new safety report on the chemical this week, but delayed its decision.)
Perchlorate, a rocket fuel component and, according to the EWG, a potent thyroid toxin that can disrupt production of hormones essential for normal brain development.
BPA was found in 9 out of 10 samples.
Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), a toxic flame retardant chemical called that permeates computer circuit boards, synthetic fragrances (Galaxolide and Tonalide), and common cosmetics and detergents, was also detected for the first time.
Perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA, or C4), a member of the Teflon chemical family used to make non-stick and grease-, stain- and water-resistant coatings for cookware, textiles, food packaging and other consumer products, was also detected.
232 different chemicals, all told, were detected in the cord blood from these 10 babies.
What's a parent to do?
I told Dr. Anila Jacob, EWG's senior scientist and co-author of the report, that reading it made me feel like the only thing parents can really do is get political.
"That's accurate," she said. "There is no way to shop yourself out of this 100%. That's why we need good strong federal legislation. But there are some individual actions they can take to decrease the exposure. When Mom is pregnant she can decrease the use of canned foods, she can not microwave in plastic. Once she has her baby she can use a BPA-free baby bottle." I prefer glass. "Breastfeeding is best but if you're using formula, we recommend powder versus liquid canned infant formula. She should check with her pediatrician."
The way the current legislation is written, Jacob says, is backwards. "Chemicals are put in the marketplace without definitive safety testing. They have to be proven to be unsafe once they're on the market. During that period of time millions of people are exposed."
For the cord blood report, the babies were tested for over 300 chemicals. Most other studies only look at one or two chemicals. "We're concerned about what the mixtures are doing. I'm a physician. When I was training, we were taught about drug interactions, we have to consider those interactions. What about chemicals?" says Jacob. "Our study is showing each of these babies is exposed to at least 100 if not 200 chemicals each. We're very concerned about the individual effects but also the mixtures. Are there synergistic or cumulative effects? Our study brings these to mind. Mixture toxicity - how do these things effect us long term when all mixed up? We don't know."
The cord blood donations came from five different states. This is not a regional issue. This is the EWG's 11th biomonitoring project. They asked for minority cord blood because "in a sense our mission here is to map the degree of chemical contamination within the U.S. population," Jacob said.
"This is one segment that hasn't been tested very much for chemical exposure -- babies of racial or ethnic minority groups. We didn't look for chemicals based on mom's choices like smoking or alcohol, these are unintentional exposures with regard to consumer and home product chemicals."
In the articles I write explaining to parents how to "green" their families, I methodically go through a zillion ways to minimize exposure to the 80,000 to 100,000 new chemicals that have been introduced in the U.S. since WWII, because the health effects of fewer than 5% of them are known. This usually involves educating them in becoming conscious consumers and avid label readers - of cleaning products, packaged foods, cosmetics, municipal water reports, mattress tags and more. And once I've gone through the nine points of my basic top ten list of how to eco-parent, I get to point ten. Here's where I tell them that despite the newfound education I've just dumped on them, you can't actually shop your way out of the problem.
Minimizing exposure is a great, common sense approach. But the fate of our true exposure lies with our politicians. Some of the worst offenders might not be in your home if you switch your cleaning products to environmentally friendly versions and stop dry cleaning your shirts, but that doesn't mean they're not in your neighbors home, or on their lawn, or by previous owners in your own home, or used on the land next to your organic farm. It's all well and good to buy a BPA-free baby bottle, but what if every person who did that also got on the phone and called their senator and their congressperson and asked them to support the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, which is waiting for reintroduction in the House and the Senate? They need to know parents are concerned about these issues. That's really how best to parent, and is what we all need to be doing to safeguard our kids, our neighbors, and our earth.
We can all easily avoid canned food, yes, but it's a lot harder to avoid flame retardants in our furniture and electronics, and perchlorate in our tap water. To minimize exposure to those items, parents must join in the effort to get real chemical policy reform. We already pressed retailers and manufacturers to offer us BPA-free products. And we got a great response and a wide array of better choices. Now's the time to put that same pressure on our representatives - for our kids and for everyone.
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