CHILDREN AND TOXINS

ABSTRACT: Children are continuously exposed to many toxic chemicals. None of the over 75,000 synthetic chemicals in use in the US are regulated based on their potential to affect children. Chemicals in a mother’s blood can cause a preterm birth or even a miscarriage, and do get into her fetus’s blood. After birth, breast milk can be harmful as it is the most highly chemical-contaminated of any food.

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its report America’s Children and the Environment. While there is some good news on air quality, blood lead levels, and tobacco smoke, it finds that children may be exposed to relatively higher amounts of chemicals than adults and have higher blood levels of toxins. Although definite cause and effect is hard to establish with current knowledge and data, and because of multiple risk factors, respiratory diseases, childhood and adult cancers, neuro-developmental disorders, obesity, and adverse birth outcomes are some of the negative health outcomes for which there is evidence of a link to environmental factors. The report finds, among other things, that 1) air pollution and exposure to lead are still problems; 2) mercury in women of child bearing age has not declined over the last 10 years; 3) phthalate blood levels were 10% to 33% higher in children than in women and were detected in all samples of indoor air and dust at child care centers; 4) pesticides were detected in all samples of indoor air and dust at child care centers; 5) asthma rates are up to one in 11 children and the rate for Black children is nearly double that of White children; 6) childhood cancer rates have increased over 10% over the last 15 years; 7) attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnoses have increased by 50%; 8) one in 100 children now exhibits autism symptoms, a ten-fold increase. Puberty is occurring about a year and a half earlier, with one in 10 girls going into puberty before age 8.

Despite the very high economic and human costs of exposure to toxins, we do not have an effective regulatory system in place to protect us – not even our children.

FULL POST: Children are continuously exposed to many toxic chemicals in the air, dust, water, and everyday items that surround them with no regulation and no evaluation of possible negative effects. None of the over 75,000 synthetic chemicals in use in the US are regulated based on their potential to affect children. The science about how chemicals can affect growth and development in children and fetuses has advanced tremendously in the last 40 years, but our laws regulating toxic substances have not changed. The chemical industry, and related industries, has blocked regulation under existing law, as well as improvements to the current law. (See post of 6/10/13 for more detail.) [1]

Thousands of consumer products for children, such as toys, car seats, bedding, and clothes, contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, developmental problems, and reproduction and immune system problems. Yet there is no national requirement to regulate, disclose, or label such products. Washington State in 2008 became the first state to require manufacturers to report the presence of toxic chemicals in their products. [2]

Chemicals in a mother’s blood can also be harmful to children. During pregnancy, toxins can cause a preterm birth or even a miscarriage, and do cross the placenta and get into her fetus’s blood, with unknown effects on her yet to be born baby. After birth, breast milk can be harmful as it is the most highly chemical-contaminated of any food. It contains dioxins, pesticides, PCBs, and the range of other chemicals that are found in human blood. (See posts of 5/22/13 and 6/2/13 for more detail.) These are examples of toxic trespass: toxic chemicals in our bodies that got there without our consent or control. [3]

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its report America’s Children and the Environment. The good news is that it finds that air quality has improved, children’s blood lead levels have declined, and children’s exposure to second hand tobacco smoke has decreased. However, it states that research is need on the causes of increased asthma rates, the potential impacts of early life exposure to chemicals, and the higher incidences of diseases in children in minority and low income families than in other families. It notes that children may be exposed to relatively higher amounts of chemicals than adults because they eat, drink, and breathe more relative to their size. Furthermore, they may be exposed to chemicals that adults are not because they play on the ground or floor and more frequently put their hands to their mouths. And children in minority and low income families generally have higher body burdens of toxic chemicals. [4]

It is often difficult to determine the impact of chemicals and the cause of adverse health outcomes because of the presence and interaction of multiple factors. For many environmental exposures, there is very little information on the potential health consequences of exposure levels typically experienced by US children. Furthermore, the impact on children of a given exposure can vary widely due to genetics; the length, avenue, and magnitude of exposure; age and developmental stage; concurrent or prior exposure to other contaminants; and the presence of other, non-chemical stressors. The prenatal period is the most sensitive, generally. Respiratory diseases, childhood and adult cancers, neuro-developmental disorders, obesity, and adverse birth outcomes are some of the negative health outcomes for which there is evidence of a link to environmental factors. The effects of harmful exposure may not be evident until years later and may contribute to the onset of chronic diseases in adulthood.

Specific findings of the EPA report, based on the most recent data available, include:

  • Virtually all children experienced hazardous air pollutant concentrations above the cancer risk benchmark in 2005. 56% experienced one pollutant over the safe level standard for health effects other than cancer, (e.g., asthma).
  • Despite the reductions in blood lead levels, 15% of children birth to age 5 still lived in homes with a lead hazard in 2005-2006. The median lead blood level of Black children was one-third higher than for other children.
  • The median concentration of mercury in the blood of women ages 16 to 49 (i.e., child-bearing age) is unchanged over the last 10 years. Hopefully, the recent regulation of mercury emissions for electric power generating plants will improve this in the future. In recent years, while mercury regulation was blocked by the electric power industry, we advised women of child-bearing age to limit their intake of certain fish to avoid excessive mercury, which is a known neurotoxin for fetuses and young children.
  • The concentrations of phthalates (which have been linked to hormonal changes and birth defects in animals) were 10% to 33% higher in children than in women, with no clear trend up or down. Phthalates were detected in all samples of indoor air and dust at child care centers.
  • Pesticides were detected in all samples of indoor air and dust at child care centers.

The EPA report also found that chronic illnesses and childhood disabilities have risen dramatically in recent years. Although some of this may be due to improved diagnosis, there clearly has been an increase in incidence. While no clear cause has been established, increased exposure to toxic chemicals is very likely to be at least a contributing cause. For example:

  • Asthma rates are up to one in 11 children, increasing from 8.7% in 2001 to 9.4% in 2010. The rate (16.0%) for Black children is nearly double that of White children.
  • Childhood cancer rates have increased over 10%, from 157 cases per million children to 173.5, over the last 15 years.
  • Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnoses have increased by 50%, from 6.3% to 9.5% of children over the last 13 years.
  • One in 100 children now exhibits autism symptoms, a ten-fold increase over 13 years.
  • The child obesity rate has risen from 5% to 17% over the last 30 years, but seems to have stabilized. This is due to multiple causes, but chemical exposure is likely to be a factor.
  • One in eight births occurs prematurely, increasing from 11.0% to 12.8% over the last 15 years.
  • A sampling of birth defects has shown an increase over the last 8 years.

Puberty is occurring about a year and a half earlier, with one in 10 girls going into puberty before age 8. Early puberty raises the risk of breast cancer. Puberty marks a broad range of changes in one’s body, including brain structure and functioning. No one knows what the impacts of early puberty overall might be. But we do know that the same chemicals that can cause early sexual maturation in animals in the lab are in the bodies of our children. So it seems likely that these chemicals are at least contributing to the early puberty that is being observed in our children. [5]

We know there are very high economic and human costs to these medical problems and chronic illnesses. Despite this, we do not have an effective regulatory system in place to protect us – not even our children.


 

[1]       Steingraber, S., 4/19/13, “Sandra Steingraber’s war on toxic trespassers,” Bill Moyers public TV show, available at BillMoyers.com. Note: Steingraber has written multiple books including “Having faith: An ecologist’s journey to motherhood” and “Raising Elijah: Protecting our children in an age of environmental crisis.”

[2]       McCauley, L., 5/1/13, “Report: Toxic chemicals found in thousands of children’s products,” Common Dreams. The report cited is at http://watoxics.org/chemicalsrevealed.

[3]       Steingraber, S., 4/19/13, see above

[4]       Environmental Protection Agency, Jan. 2013, “America’s Children and the environment,” http://www.epa.gov/ace

[5]       Steingraber, S., 4/19/13, see above

Advertisements

Comments and discussion are encouraged

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: