What are we doing to the children?

15 04 2014

Americans live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet American children are less likely to live to age 5 than children in comparable nations – and I was shocked to find that America has the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world.[1]

infant-morality

Our children are especially vulnerable to the presence of toxic chemicals in their lives, and unfortunately this means that our children are sicker than we were as kids.

That is due to many different things, but one component can be found in changes to our environment. Since the middle of the last century, we have allowed a slew of chemicals (numbering now over 80,000) to be used in products – chemicals which were untested, many of which we now know to be harmful. In 2009, tests conducted by five laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe found up to 232 toxic chemicals in 10 umbilical cord blood samples of newborns. Substances detected for the first time in U.S. newborns included a toxic flame retardant chemical called Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) that permeates computer circuit boards, synthetic fragrances (Galaxolide and Tonalide) used in common cosmetics and detergents, and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFBA, or C4), a member of the notorious Teflon chemical family used to make non-stick and grease-, stain- and water-resistant coatings for cookware, textiles, food packaging and other consumer products.  Additionally, laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Rachel’s Network have detected Bisphenol A (BPA) for the first time in the umbilical cord blood of U.S. newborns. The tests identified this plastics component in 9 of 10 cord blood samples from babies of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent. The findings provide hard evidence that U.S. infants are contaminated with BPA beginning in the womb.

Our immune systems can only take so much –  when the toxic burden reaches capacity we end up with the epidemic rates in inflammatory conditions like allergies and asthma.   Many experts feel that compromised immune systems have also contributed to the rise in autism, which needs no further dramatic numbers to define its horrific rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control – today, 1 in every 20 children will develop a food allergy and 1 in every 8 will have a skin allergy.[2] Allergies are a result of impacts on our body’s immune system. It is estimated that as much as 45% of children have type 2 diabetes.[3]

You would think that we’d rise up to protest these assults on our kids. But Greenpeace has a new report about the chemicals found in children’s clothing, entitled “A Little Story About Monsters in Your Closet”[4] . ( Click here to read the report.)  Their latest investigation revealed the presence of hazardous chemicals in clothing made by 12 very well known brands; from the iconic kid’s label Disney, to sportswear brands like Adidas, and even top-end luxury labels like Burberry.

The shocking truth is that no matter what type of kid’s clothes we shop for, there’s no safe haven – all of the tested brands had at least one product containing hazardous toxic monsters – toxic chemicals which mess with the normal development of our children’s bodies.

Greenpeace bought 82 items from authorized retailers in 25 countries, made in at least 12 different regions and found traces, beyond the technical limits of detection, of a number of banned and dangerous chemicals, including:

  • Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), chemicals found in 61% of the products tested and in all brands, from 1 mg/kg (the limit of detection) up to 17,000 mg/kg. NPEs degrade to nonylphenols (NP) when released into the environment; they hormone disruptors, persistent and bioaccumulative.
  • Phtalates, plastics-softeners banned in children’s toys because of toxicity and hormonal effects, were found in 33 out of 35 samples tested. A Primark t-shirt sold in Germany contained 11% phthalates, and an American Apparel baby one-piece sold in the USA contained 0.6% phthalates.
  • Organotins, fungicides banned by the EU and found in three of five shoe samples and three clothing articles (of 21 tested). Organotins impact thePe immune and nervous systems of mammals.
  • Per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) were found in each of 15 articles tested; one adidas swimsuit tested far higher than the limit set by Norway in 2014 and even by adidas in its Restricted Substances List.
  • Antimony was found in 100% of the articles tested; antimony is similar in toxicity to arsenic.

Greenpeace is calling on textile companies to recognize the urgency of the situation and to act as leaders in committing to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals and to our governments to support these commitments to zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals within one generation.

But it probably is most important that we, consumers with the all mighty dollar, demand that brands and governments make the changes that our children deserve. If you vote with your dollars, change will happen.

Click here to get the “Little Monsters: Field Guide to Hazardous Chemicals” from Greenpeace.

[1] World Health Organization (2013): World Health Statistics 2013.

[2] http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/02/childhood-food-skin-allergies-on-the-rise/

[3] Alberti, George, et al, “Type 2 Diabetes in the Young: The Evolving Epidemic”, American Diabetes Association, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/7/1798.long

[4] http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/Global/eastasia/publications/reports/toxics/2013/A%20Little%20Story%20About%20the%20Monsters%20In%20Your%20Closet%20-%20Report.pdf

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What you can do to avoid toxins

27 06 2013

North-Cascades-e1346800825850I’ll be taking a few weeks off so instead of sitting in front of the computer I’ll be hiking in the mountains and sitting by a lake. Have a wonderful fourth, and see you in August.

Last week I promised you the list of things to do to avoid toxins in your life. In putting together the list, it all became a bit overwhelming and I found myself asking whether it would really make a difference. I mean, the chemicals in use are so pervasive and ubiquitous that I wasn’t sure whether my puny attempts at reducing exposure would result in any improvements. Like that old adage: you can’t buy health – can you protect yourself from exposure? I mean, they found GMO wheat in a remote field in Oregon. Then I ran across the Michael Pollan piece in the New York Times (for the full article, click here) in which he talks about what we can do to fight climate change and it seems to reflect my own feelings about chemical exposure:

Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it’s not an easy one to answer. I don’t know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in “An Inconvenient Truth” came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That’s when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.

But then he answers his own question: “Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.”

The fact that chemicals are not being directly linked to health issues is largely because of the long delay between time of exposure and effect, so causation is difficult to prove. As Ed Brown points out in his new documentary “Unacceptable Levels” (click here for more information), it’s only because these chemicals have been in our environment for so long that we can now start to monitor their results. Another reason it’s difficult to prove the effects of these chemicals is that we’re exposed to low levels of individual chemicals from different sources – and they enter your body and react with all the other chemicals found there. Yet chemicals are tested for safety only one by one. As Ken Cook points out, no doctor will prescribe a new drug for a patient before finding out what other drugs that patient is taking.

So, yes, it’s overwhelming but that’s okay. Now that you know, begin to read up a bit and learn what all the fuss is about. Then you can start to make some changes that might mean all the difference.

Back to my list: my top 11 suggestions to avoid toxins are below. If you can do even some of those, you’ll be ahead of the game:

• Take off your shoes in the house – simple and easy, and it prevents lots of pesticides and other chemicals from being tracked in.

• Vacuum and/or dust regularly –because the dust in our homes has been proven to contain lots of chemicals (want proof? click here )

• Filter your water. You’d be surprised to read the list of really bad chemicals found in most tapwater in the US – if you’re interested, read the series called “Toxic Waters” which was published in the New York Times. Click here.

• Buy only GOTS or Oeko Tex certified fabrics if you can – for everything, not just sheets and pajamas – starting now. Never buy wrinkle-free or permanent-press anything and pass on any stain protection treatments. Fabrics – even those made of organic cotton – are, by weight, 27% synthetic chemicals. Click here to get started on what that means!

• Check the labels on your furniture. The California Furniture Flammability Standard essentially requires that cushioned furniture, children’s car seats, diaper-changing tables and other products containing polyurethane foam be drenched in flame retardants – and most manufacturers build to that standard, so don’t think you’re off the hook just because you don’t live in California. (Click here to read why that’s important). Check the labels on electronics, too. Avoid polyurethane if possible.

• Read the labels of your grooming products – avoid anything that includes the words “paraben” (often used as a suffix, as in methylparaben) or “phthalate” (listed as dibutyl and diethylhexyl or just “fragrance”). If there isn’t an ingredients list, log on to cosmeticsdatabase.com, a Web site devised by the Environmental Working Group that identifies the toxic ingredients of thousands of personal-care products.

• About plastics: Never use plastics in the microwave. Avoid “bad plastics” like PVC and anything with “vinyl” in its name. And don’t eat microwave popcorn, because the inside of a microwave popcorn bag is usually coated with a chemical that can migrate into the food when heated. It has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals.

* As Michael Pollan says: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I’d add: eat organic as much as possible, support local farmers and don’t eat meat and fish every day. Grow an organic garden – one of the most powerful things you can do! If you can only purchase a few organic foods, there are lots of lists (EWG has a good one, click here) that tell you which are the most pesticide-laden.

• Replace cleaning products with non toxic alternatives – either commercially available cleaning products (avoiding ammonia, artificial dyes, detergents, aerosol propellants, sodium hypochlorite, lye, fluorescent brighteners, chlorine or artificial fragrances) or homemade. You probably can do most cleaning with a few simple ingredients like baking soda, lemon juice and distilled white vinegar. Lots of web sites offer recipes for different cleaners – I like essential oils (such as lavender, lemongrass, sweet orange, peppermint, cedar wood and ylang-ylang) in a bucket of soap and hot water. It can clean most floors and surfaces and it won’t kill me.

• And now that we mention it, avoid using any product which lists “fragrance” as an ingredient.

• Fly less – in this case my issue is not with the carbon footprint (which is tremendous) but because the fabrics are so drenched in flame retardants that people who fly often have elevated levels of PBDEs in their blood – and you already know that PBDEs and their ilk are to be avoided as much as possible (click here and here ).

• Get involved and become informed! Force the federal government to fulfill its obligation to protect us from harm – join something (like a Stroller Brigade, sponsored by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families or Washington Toxics Coalition, for example) and urge your representatives to support the Safe Chemicals Act.





What is “body burden” – and why is it important to you?

28 07 2010

I just found a website that threw me for a loop:  It’s called Sailhome (www.sailhome.org).

It was started by a regular guy – a physicist living in San Francisco who was the VP of marketing for a semiconductor intellectual property company – named Ron.   Ron’s son, born almost 10 years ago, began to show signs of being developmentally off track by age 2.  By age 3, Ron and his wife had three separate diagnoses trying to label his condition – Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, Autism.

Before age 4, he began receiving treatment guided by the DAN! Protocol.  DAN! doctors feel that autism is a disorder caused by a combination of lowered immune response, external toxins from vaccines and other sources, and problems caused by certain foods. It includes treatment to reduce toxic loads and pathogens, boost immunity, and heal from the complexities of toxic injury.  Some of the major interventions suggested by DAN! practitioners include:

  • Nutritional supplements, including certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids
  • Special diets totally free of gluten (from wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats) and free of dairy (milk, ice cream, yogurt, etc.)
  • Testing for hidden food allergies, and avoidance of allergenic foods
  • Treatment of intestinal bacterial/yeast overgrowth (with pro-biotics, supplements and other non-pharmaceutical medications)
  • Detoxification of heavy metals through chelation (a potentially hazardous medical procedure)

There are some who debate about whether this approach is safe, proven, or even “quackery”.
But it’s working for Ron’s son –  who is 9 years old in 2010, and largely recovered. Ron says that most people who meet him have no inkling he’s ever been “on the spectrum” – but that successfully navigating through each day’s toxic insults will probably remain a life-long challenge for him.

Sailhome was started by this regular guy, who says he  “parked my career for 6+ years in order to help my son recover, make sure my family stayed intact during the ordeal, and to develop this web site.”

The website is an attempt to “connect the dots”, so that we have a better understanding about how easily toxic exposures occur, the types of illness that results, and how to prevail.

It’s divided into three parts under “Concerns”:

  • Body Burden
  • Excitotoxins
  • Vaccines

I want to concentrate on the “Body Burden” section, because among the chemicals often found in our bodies (contributing to our body burden) are those used most often in textile processing.

Body burden refers to the accumulation of synthetic chemicals – found in substances like household cleaners, fabrics, cosmetics, pest repellants, computers, cell phones – which helped “modernize” our lives in the post World War II chemical age and which are now found in our own bodies. When we hear that some chemicals can damage the environment, we have forgotten that we ARE the environment, as David Suzuki reminds us.  Whatever is “out there” is also inside us.  We live , breathe and eat the products of our modern industrial era, for better or for worse.  Think of it as “the pollution inside people”.

You can get tons of information about body burden on Google, and studies litter the landscape with results showing the effects this chemical onslaught is having on us. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is running the National Biomonitoring Program (NBP) started in 1998. Every two years the NBP attempts to assess exposure to environmental chemicals in the general U.S. population.   Data covering 2001-2002 found that the average adult American body carried 116 toxic synthetic compounds. In other studies, similar chemicals have been detected in the placenta, umbilical cord blood, bloodstream, and body fat of infants as well as in the human breast milk they drink. In a study sponsored by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cord of newborn babies,  indicating that babies are born “pre polluted”. 

Yet many people are not terribly concerned, because the industry and their government tells them that the chemicals found in products are present in such low quantities as to have no effect.  And scientists are trained to believe that “the dose makes the poison” – in other words, it’s commonly thought that a little bit won’t hurt you; that large doses always have greater effects than small doses.  But that simplistic approach overlooks greater harm that is being found at extremely small doses.  If all toxins behaved exactly the same way that might hold true.   But the effect of high doses cannot always be extrapolated to predict what happens at extremely low doses.

The effect of a ‘dose’ is not that simple.  Factors that must be considered include

• Size of dose

• Length of exposure

• Rate of absorption

• Timing

• Individual metabolism

• State of health and nutrition when exposed

• Concurrent exposure to other toxicants — including order of exposures and any  synergies

Here are some of the problems with the assumption that a low dose translates into low risk:

New research is demonstrating that harm can occur at much lower thresholds than previously considered possible.  Hormones, for example, play specific roles, at specific moments in time, throughtout a person’s life.  If the actions of hormones are prevented, interrupted, or increased then the effects can range from subtle to dramatic.

For example, exposure occurring at a young age can cause a subtle change in how a gene expresses itself. This can set up a low-level progression of conditions that eventually leads to some form of cancer.

In other cases the original disruption might occur at a key moment during development in the womb. The dramatic result might be a birth defect, mental retardation or miscarriage.

The amount of chemical necessary to cause these disruptions does not have to be large. A vanishingly small amount is all it takes — “just enough” to alter an event.   The mouse on the left is normal. The mouse on the right was exposed to 1 ppb DES while in the womb.   For years it was assumed that such low exposure would have no effect — until someone checked.

Toxins are often regulated based on finding the level of exposure that causes no harm. This is known as the ‘no observable adverse effects level’ (NOAEL).  But a NOAEL is derived by starting with a high dose and then reducing subsequent doses until no affect is observed misses other harm that can take place (from synergistic reactions with other chemicals in the body) at even lower doses.

These chemicals do not act in a vacuum and the effects cannot be isolated from other variables.  Harm can be amplified when chemicals are combined –  in other words, toxins can make each other more toxic.  For example, a dose of mercury that would kill 1 out of 100 rats, when combined with a dose of lead that would kill 1 out of 1000 rats – kills every rat exposed!  This is called synergistic toxicity.

The timing – and order –  of toxic exposure plays a much more significant role than previously recognized.  Exposures can happen one after the other, or all at once. Combinations of chemicals can produce:

  • Consequences that are significantly different than would be expected from individual exposures.
  • A range of combined acute and chronic effects.
  • Effects that can appear immediately  –  or sometime later.
  • Increased or unexpected harmful effects — including entirely new kinds of effects.

The possible combinations of exposure are huge and knowledge is limited about the effects of mixed exposures. Individual susceptibility adds to the complexity of exposure and resulting outcomes.   As a result, current safety standards based on high dose experiments don’t guarantee shelter from toxic levels of exposure.

Genetic susceptibility plays a role in body burden.  For instance, a large part of the population, possibly more than 20%, are unable to effectively excrete heavy metals. Their burden accumulates faster. Their illnesses are more obvious. They are the “canaries in a coal mine” in an environment that is increasingly toxic.  It’s becoming abundantly clear that both “rare” and “common” illnesses are on the rise, and research is making a connection with body burden. The National Institutes of Health defines a rare disease as one affecting 200,000 or fewer Americans yet:

  • 25 million Americans suffer from one of the nearly 6,000 identified rare diseases.  That rivals the 40 million Americans with one or more of the three “major” diseases: heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

Viruses, bacteria, yeasts, parasites, and mold aggravate body burden at any stage of life. New research demonstrates that viruses can increase susceptibility to heavy metals; or that they increase the uptake of PBDEs.  Beyond the better understood mechanisms of infection, research is revealing that some microorganisms interact directly with chemicals to enhance susceptibility to infection.

A common misconception is that “inactive ingredients will not interact”.
In fact many ingredients do interact, and it is possible for ingredients to change into different chemicals that also interact. A manufacturer may claim a product has been tested and proven to be 100% safe when used as directed. This might be true — there is no requirement to test for synergies.

These are just the highlights of Ron’s eye opening discussion.  Please take a few minutes exploring his web site and others, some of which I’ve listed below:

Resources:

www.sailhome.org

For presentation on PBS and hosted by Bill Moyers on our body burden, see http://www.pbs.org/tradesecrets/problem/bodyburden.html


For the Centers for Disease Control report: www.cdc.gov/exposurereport


For the EWG/Mount Sinai body burden report: www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden/index.php


For the EPA study on extent of testing for modern chemicals: www.epa.gov/opptintr/chemtest/hazchem.htm


For ideas on what you can do: “Everybody’s Chemical Burden” by Shayna Cohen in The Green Guide #96 May/June 2003, www.thegreenguide.com