In 2004, CHEC (The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition) now Healthy Child Healthy World, the organization Jim and I founded in memory of our only child, Colette, who died at age five from a non-hereditary cancer initiated a powerful grassroots campaign to create national awareness to safeguard human health from dangers posed by hazardous environmental exposures.
I thought it made great sense to remind everyone what we are not valuing enough-the impact of our environment on our health.
I coined the words, “Tox Cut” knowing we had to give a name to our campaign involving a complex subject that would prioritize the need for advocacy. It made great sense that we needed a referendum that placed the highest priority on our children’s health knowing that our taxes are not covering rising health care costs.
If Obama really cares, and we know Michelle does, as she is the mother of two beautiful daughters, she would urge the President to help all American families by using every means in his power to control the use of chemicals proven to be harmful to our health and the environment. And to author and sign an Executive Order which would ban the use of those chemicals proven to be harmful to our health and the environment.
Worse, industry, would seat paid university docs at the table to discredit findings pertaining to human health risks. If a chemical was found unsafe for humans, it would be impossible to ban it or limit its use under TSCA ( The Toxic Substance Control Act), a reprehensible and long standing law that would be revised by the Chemical Safety Improvement act introduced by Senators Lautenberg and Vitter. Unfortunately, this is a band aid solution which would allow loopholes for industry to produce more chemicals, while many that are backlogged and commercially used would be marketed to other countries with less restraints and oversight for public exposure.
Tracing the history of why we needed a Tox Cut, in 2004 we learned that the chemical conundrum, pervaded not only our land, food, air, and water but ourselves—and our children who are most at risk.
Toxic chemicals not only pollute our environment, they pollute us and threaten our health. Because of inadequate national policies that do not require thorough testing and disclosure of chemicals’ effects on human health, we can only guess at the true scope of the problem.
Yet the facts we knew then sketched a very disturbing picture. More than 70,000 synthetic chemicals were being used in the U.S., with more than 6 trillion pounds of them released into the environment annually.
Today, there are more than 83,000 chemicals available for sale and in use in the Untited States. As a rule, neither the government nor industry thoroughly tests these chemicals for their long-term effects on human health. Thus, every day, chemicals hit our markets and flood our environment without testing to determine their long-term (or often their short-term) health effects on women, children or the elderly. Solid research has shown that many of these chemicals can cause serious health effects – including cancers, endocrine and neurobehavioral disorders, and asthma – even at low doses.
Under the current law(TSCA), the EPA must prove a chemical poses an “unreasonable risk” to health or the environment before it can be regulated. The law is widely considered to be a failure. When the law was first passed, 62,000 chemicals were allowed to remain on the market without testing for their effects on health or the environment. In more than 30 years, the EPA has only required testing about 200 of those chemicals, and has partially regulated only five. The rest have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment. For the 22,000 chemicals introduced into commerce since 1976, chemical manufactureres have provided little or no information to the EPA regarding their potential health or environmental impacts. Chemicals were being used in the U.S., with more than 6 trillion pounds of them released into the environment annually
There was and is a body count from this irresponsibility: the incidence and prevalence of diseases with likely environmental causes have risen alarmingly over the past several decades.
It will take a village to turn this catastrophic problem into a solution. One voice who has been as persistent as the chemicals she claims have been invading our bodies and our children’s future is Theo Colborn, author of Our Stolen Future.
What are the statistics?
Cancer is increasing. Between 1992 and 1999, rates of various cancers rose, including cancers affecting the breast, thyroid, kidney, liver, abdominal cavity connective tissue, testicles and skin, as well as some forms of leukemia. The probability that a US resident will develop cancer at some point in his or her lifetime is 1 in 2 for men and 1 in 3 for women. No more than 5-10% of all cancers are genetically caused. For the remainder, environmental factors play a pivotal role.
Major nervous system disorders are on the rise. The number of children diagnosed with autism, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders have increased dramatically in the past decade. The causes are largely unexplained. Yet environmental factors are implicated, in part because we are routinely exposed (and have been found to have in our systems) nervous system toxicants.
Endocrine disruption and reproductive system defects are also on the rise. In certain parts of the world, sperm counts are decreasing with no genetic explanation available. Rates of endometriosis among women have soared, and studies have shown linkages between the condition and exposure to dioxin and PCBs. Several studies suggest that chemicals can mimic or block the body’s own endogenous hormones, implicating chemicals in many of these otherwise unexplainable endocrine and reproductive disruptions.
What we know now is even more alarming. Without government or industry thoroughly testing chemicals or informing the public as to their existence in air, food, water or schools, the public is currently in the dark as to the risks we face and, as a result, without the tools needed to demand that environmental health be treated as a priority.
The good news is that we can make our world safer from these dangerous exposures. We can learn how to keep them out of our homes and away from our children. At the very least, we can ask that our government thoroughly monitor their health effects of these toxins, which it does not now do. And we can demand the right to know what toxic substances we are exposed to and the risks they pose. The bad news is that our country is taking the opposite approach: instead of reducing the toxicants in air, food and water, our national leaders are gutting policies that require toxic monitoring and clean-up.
In 2010, Jim and I appeared on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. His two part series,“Toxic America,” revealed startling facts. The odds are stacked against us. Heredity may load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger.
We all live in a sea of toxic chemicals. According to the government’s own estimates, industry releases more than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment. More than 83,000 synthetic chemicals have been developed over the past fifty years. Moreover, 2,000 to 3,000 new chemicals are brought to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each year for review before manufactured.
These chemicals are used in agriculture, industry and in thousands of consumer products like cleaning supplies, insulation, upholstery, fabric treatments, computers and televisions, paints and cosmetics. To illustrate, the government has tallied 5,000 chemical ingredients in cosmetics; more than 3,200 chemicals added to food; 1,010 chemicals used in consumer products; and 500 chemicals used as active ingredients in pesticides. Thousands of additional compounds are released into the environment as pollutants, combustion by-products or wastes. This deluge leaves its mark on our world: the chemicals and their byproducts remain in our air, water, food and soil long after their intended uses.
WE’RE HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION. WE CAN – AND MUST – DO BETTER.
The facts are clear: toxic chemicals not only pollute our environment; they pollute us and threaten our health as well. Because of inadequate national policy requiring thorough testing and disclosure of chemicals’ effects, we can only guess at the true scope of the problem the facts show to exist.
Our nation can better protect ourselves and our children when two things happen: First, when more people are aware of the risks posed by harmful exposures, they will be more likely to choose safer products (and chemicals). Second, we must demand that our government change its policies in the following ways:
All chemicals should be thoroughly tested in “womb to tomb” studies for the health effects they have on humans of all ages exposed to them in normal, everyday ways (i.e., at relatively low doses).
We should be informed of the chemicals and attendant risks to which we are exposed, for example by having the chemical ingredients of products listed on packaging and being notified when harmful pesticides or other products are in our air, food or parks; and in our environment.
Only chemicals that are proven safe for humans who are exposed to them at routine, everyday levels should be allowed on the market.
We can do better. Our history boasts several success stories in which, upon learning about the harmful substances in their environment, the public was able to lobby for and secure protective action. While we have a long way to go toward a healthy environment, we are safer today thanks to the following examples of public activism prompted by independent research.
DDT banned. When people learned about dangers associated with the indiscriminate use of pesticides from the 1962 book Silent Spring, they prompted the creation of the EPA and the ban of the carcinogenic pesticide DDT.
Lead paint banned. After independent research revealed that exposures even to low doses of lead harms kids, the government banned lead in paint and other products. As a result of this action, the amount of lead in the average American’s bloodstream fell more than 75% in 15 years, and the percentage of American children with hazardous blood lead levels fell from almost 90% in the late 1970’s to under 5% in the early 1990’s.
The Food Quality Protection Act. In the past decade, we’ve seen several legislative attempts to protect our nation’s food supply from pesticides. In 1996, the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) became law, requiring that children’s special needs be taken into account in setting pesticide standards.
Dursban phased out. Dursban, the trade name for the chemical chlorpyrifos, used to be one of the most widely used organophosphate insecticides in the U.S. and is known to have harmful effects on the human central nervous system. Thanks to the tougher standards set forth in the FQPA, the sale of Dursban for residential use or use in schools, parks, day care centers, nursing homes, malls, hospitals or other settings where children may be exposed was phased out in 2001.
Thanks to the growing body of scientific evidence and efforts by Healthy Child Healthy World and concerned citizens, the Clinton Administration instituted an Executive Order (12856) in 1997 directing Administration agencies to, among other things, conduct evaluations of the environmental health or safety effects of planned regulations on children. Ironically, this measure was first approved on April 21, 1993 marking the the second anniversary of Colette’s passing.
Armed with information, people are changing the marketplace. Sales of organic food and beverages – which are produced naturally without items such as pesticides, drugs and growth hormones – have blossomed from $1 billion in 1990 to $11 billion in 2002. In 2011 $32 billion. This growth reflects consumers’ choices not to ingest dangerous and inadequately tested chemicals and proves that a healthier environment can be profitable in dollars as well as health.
Toxic substances, however, not only flood the world outside. They also flood our bodies, where they accumulate and persist in fat, blood and organs or are passed through the body into breast milk, urine, sweat, hair and nails. Scientists refer to the consequence of a lifetime of exposure to these toxins in our air (both indoor and outdoor), water, food and soil as an individual’s “body burden.”
And, the burden is a heavy one. It is evidenced by the pesticide residues that have been found in the urine of nearly all children studied in Minnesota and Washington, and by the recent findings that breast milk contains PCB’s, dioxins, furans, nicotine, flame-retardants, metals, solvents and pesticides, all synthetic chemicals that make people sick with cancer and other illnesses.
The sheer number of toxic chemicals flooding our bodies is daunting. One recent study found almost 500 synthetic chemicals detectable in human tissues. In another, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 2004 tested healthy subjects – none of whom worked with chemicals in their jobs – for the presence of 210 man-made chemicals that occur in consumer products and industrial pollution. They found the following:
On average, there were 91 chemical pollutants and pesticides in the blood and urine of each person. In total, 167 chemicals were found in the group studied.
Of the 167 chemicals found in the population’s systems, 76 cause are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development.
Although that was the most comprehensive assessment of chemical contamination in individuals ever performed, there are many more chemicals being released today that are suspected to be dangerous and to which we are routinely exposed that were not included when first tested. Furthermore, the health effects of exposures to the combinations of chemicals that persist in our bodies have never been studied. Thus, the true number of chemicals in our systems is likely much higher than the already-frightening number found in this study, and that their effects are likely more threatening.
These and other studies confirm the chemical onslaught we face everyday. It is only sane to ask – What effects do these chemicals have on us? On our children?
We don’t have time to wait. We need a Tox Cut that informs and advocates change.
A Call to Action
Toxic chemicals flood our air, food, water and household products, and they threaten our health. More than 83,000 synthetic chemicals are used in the U.S. According to the Toxic Release Inventory, more than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released into our environment every year.
Federal policies don’t require that these chemicals be thoroughly tested for their long-term effects on human health. Instead, chemicals are put on the market without testing the effects they have when “vulnerable populations” like children, pregnant women and the elderly are exposed to them at routine, everyday levels. Yet research has shown that many of them can cause serious health effects – including cancers, endocrine disorders, neurobehavioral diseases and asthma – even at low doses. And sadly, the incidence of most of these diseases is on the rise.
In our own homes, we can minimize risks to our safety and that of our loved ones. We can use less toxic alternatives to commercial cleaning products that are laden with harmful chemicals. We can buy organic to minimize harms that come from pesticide residues on foods. Before using a chemical in our homes, we can research its proven health effects. Simply opening our windows to ventilate the house of chemical fumes helps too. Important information as well as the simple steps we can take to give ourselves a Tox Cut can be found at www.healthychild.org
Autism now affects 1 in 88 children. Cancer is the leading cause of death (after accidents) in children younger than 15 years in the United States.
- 400% increase in allergies
- 300% increase in asthma
- 400% increase in ADHD
- $2.7 Trillion of the GDP is spent on treating disease every year.
Ed Brown’s now film is about the chemicals in our bodies and how they got there. It dissects the ways chemicals saturate our homes and environment amid a backdrop of a glaring lack of regulation. The film’s twelve acts chronicle the results of the post-WWII chemical boom and detail common avenues of exposure, from food to fluoride to toxic sludge. It underscores need for political reform due to the unacceptable facts
This award-winning documentary film brings together 47 non-profit organizations and 91 companies to support the overwhelming need for chemical reform in the United States.
We can and must do better to safeguard our health and that of our children. I pledge to do my part in the following ways:
* I will give myself a Tox Cut by whenever possible by buying and using the least toxic household cleaning supplies and products, buying organic, ventilating often to keep my indoor air cleaner and keeping pesticides – all of which are known dangers to human health – out.
* I will call for my government to refund the medical expenses for any human being who has inadvertently been subjected to a chemical or toxin known to cause cancer or an endocrine disruptor which marks the fate of all reproductive systems both man and animal and decreases sperm counts.
* I will encourage my elected officials to protect public spaces from harmful pesticides, and – at least – inform the public when they are used in our schools and parks. And I will call on government to do thorough testing before allowing chemicals into our environment.
* I will support a Tox Cut that encourages the development of Green Chemistry which will set new standards for the manufacturing of consumer goods including household products.
* I will support a Tox Cut that provides incentives for industry to comply to new standards developed by green chemists.
* I will sign a petition that will instruct the Congress and President Obama to pass an sign a rigorous TSCA reform bill. And I will encourage President Obama to create an Executive Order that will protect the unborn fetus by banning PCB’s and Dioxin along with the most egregious chemicals listed beginning with those known as the dirty dozen.
*I will insist that President Obama assembles a panel of the most distinguished environmental scientists to serve as an oversight committee for the Environmental Protection Agency.
*I will encourage President Obama to establish a new position for his cabinet. A Secretary for the Protection of Children’s Environmental Health… and hope that someday I might serve.