Culture of Life (Toxic Womb Edition!)

| Fri Jul. 15, 2005 10:40 AM PDT

Check out this eye-popping study from the Environmental Working Group -- if you dare -- showing that newborn American babies, as well as being cute and pudgy, may also be gurgling cocktails of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides.

Time was, scientists thought the placenta shielded umbilical cord blood from most chemical pollutants in the environment, notes EWG, a public interest watchdog. Now we know that something like the opposite is true -- chemical exposures in the womb or during infancy can be dramatically more harmful than exposures later in life.

This from the executive summary:

Researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.

Garbage!? Among the compounds discovered are eight perfluorochemicals used as stain and oil repellants in fast food packaging, clothes and textiles, dozens of widely used brominated flame retardants and their toxic by-products, and numerous pesticides. Now, admittedly 10 babies doesn't sound like a very scientific sample, though they were picked at random; still, the results are suggestive, to say the least, and indicate that somebody should be, you know, looking into this.

Again, from the exec. summary:

Had we tested for a broader array of chemicals, we would almost certainly have detected far more than 287. But testing umbilical cord blood for industrial chemicals is technically challenging. Chemical manufacturers are not required to divulge to the public or government health officials methods to detect their chemicals in humans.

This is too bad, because "U.S. industries manufacture and import approximately 75,000 chemicals, 3,000 of them at over a million pounds per year. Health officials do not know how many of these chemicals pollute fetal blood and what the health consequences of in utero exposures may be."

There ought to be a law against it! But, alarmingly ...

The Toxic Substances Control Act, the 1976 federal law meant to ensure the safety of commercial chemicals, essentially deemed 63,000 existing chemicals "safe as used" the day the law was passed, through mandated, en masse approval for use with no safety scrutiny. It forces the government to approve new chemicals within 90 days of a company's application at an average pace of seven per day. It has not been improved for nearly 30 years — longer than any other major environmental or public health statute — and does nothing to reduce or ensure the safety of exposure to pollution in the womb.

Looks like we might want to give the law a bit of a rethink, for, as EWG notes (and I think we can all agree):

As a society we have a responsibility to ensure that babies do not enter this world pre-polluted, with 200 industrial chemicals in their blood.

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