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Volume 14, Issue 23 ~ June 8 - June 14, 2006

Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: www.emagazine.com. Or e-mail us at: earthtalk@emagazine.com.
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Pre-Natal Pollutants

Are infants battling man-made chemicals?

I read that babies are being born nowadays with a number of man-made chemicals detected in their bloodstreams. This is pretty scary. How could it be?

—Sandra McGregor, Portland, Or

Body Burden, a 2005 study by the non-profit Environmental Working Group, found that American babies are born with hundreds of chemical contaminants in their bloodstreams. The findings are based on tests of samples of umbilical-cord blood taken by the American Red Cross from 10 babies, born in August and September of 2004 in different parts of the U.S. The most prevalent chemicals in the newborns were mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical PFOA.

“Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical-cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests,” the report said.

In the month leading up to a baby’s birth, the umbilical cord pulses with the equivalent of at least 300 quarts of blood each day, pumped back and forth from the nutrient- and oxygen-rich placenta to the rapidly growing baby cradled in a sac of amniotic fluid. This cord is a lifeline between mother and baby, bearing nutrients that sustain life and propel growth.

Not long ago scientists thought that the placenta shielded cord blood — and the developing baby — from most chemicals and pollutants in the environment. But the results of Environmental Working Group’s study show otherwise.

“Now we know that at this critical time when organs, vessels, membranes and systems are knit together from single cells to finished form in a span of weeks, the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol,” the report said.

“These 10 newborn babies … were born polluted,” said House Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York, who is leading the charge in Congress to hold chemical producers more accountable to higher standards.

“If ever we had proof that our nation’s pollution laws aren’t working, it’s reading the list of industrial chemicals in the bodies of babies who have not yet lived outside the womb,” Slaughter added.

Slaughter had similar tests done on her own blood, which she found to contain polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, banned decades ago, as well as chemicals like Teflon that are currently under federal investigation.

“I have auto exhaust fumes, flame retardant chemicals and in all, some 271 harmful substances pulsing through my veins,” she said. “That’s hardly the picture of health I had hoped for, but I’ve been living in an industrial society for more than 70 years.”

For more information:

• EWG Body Burden Report: www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/.

Got an environmental question? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek: or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

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