Toxic lies

14 07 2015

Julie Gunlock wrote a blog post entitled “The ‘toxic’ lies behind Jessica Alba’s booming baby business” (to read the post, click  here ) We’re not necessarily fond of Jessica Alba nor her Honest Company, but the statements made by Julie Gunlock need to be addressed. She contends that the Honest Company’s main commodity is fear and the “false promise that their products are safer than others.”

I will not comment on her admonitions about how The Honest Company’s products are full of chemicals (as this should be obvious), or that Alba had recognized that “many people  –  particularly women (sic) – have been convinced that common chemicals are a bogeyman that lurks, waiting to harm them” – since everything is made of chemicals, some bad for us, some that are not.  We aren’t part of the “man made is absolutely bad, natural is absolutely good” camp.

What I will address is her claim that chemicals used in products are “there for a reason” and they’re completely safe because “chemicals are regulated under nearly a dozen federal agencies and regulations.”   She states:   “ chemicals in products … are used in trace amounts, often improve the safety of those products and have undergone hundreds of safety tests.”

As she herself says, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, let’s address her contention that “chemicals in products…are used in trace amounts.”

 The idea that chemicals won’t harm us because the amounts used are so tiny is not new; it’s been used by industry for many years. However, new research is being done which is profoundly changing our old belief systems. For example, we used to think that a little dose of a poison would do a little bit of harm, and a big dose would do a lot of harm (i.e., “the dose makes the poison”) – because water, as Julie Gunlock herself reminds us, can kill you just as surely as arsenic, given sufficient quantity.   The new paradigm shows that exposure to even tiny amounts of chemicals (in the parts-per-trillion range) can have significant impacts on our health – in fact some chemicals impact the body profoundly in the parts per trillion range, but do little harm at much greater dosages. The old belief system did not address how chemicals can change the subtle organization of the brain. Now, according to Dr. Laura Vandenberg of the Tufts University Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology[1] “we found chemicals that are working at that really low level, which can take a brain that’s in a girl animal and make it look like a brain from a boy animal, so, really subtle changes that have really important effects.”

In making a risk assessment of any chemical, we now also know that timing and order of exposure is critical – exposures can happen all at once, or one after the other, and that can make a world of difference.   And we also know another thing: mixtures of chemicals 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.

And finally, the new science called “epigenetics” is finding that pollutants and chemicals might be altering the 20,000-25,000 genes we’re born with—not by mutating or killing them, but by sending subtle signals that silence them or switch them on or off at the wrong times.  This can set the stage for diseases, which can be passed down for generations. So exposure to chemicals can alter genetic expression, not only in your children, but in your children’s children – and their children too.  Researchers at Washington State University found that when pregnant rats were exposed to permethrin, DEET or any of a number of industrial chemicals, the mother rats’ great granddaughters had higher risk of early puberty and malfunctioning ovaries — even though those subsequent generations had not been exposed to the chemical.[2]  Another recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg—many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes. Other studies are being published which corroborate these findings.[3]

So that’s the thing: we’re exposed to chemicals all day, every day – heavy metals and carcinogenic particles in air pollution; industrial solvents, household detergents, Prozac (and a host of other pharmaceuticals) and radioactive wastes in drinking water; pesticides in flea collars; artificial growth hormones in beef, arsenic in chicken; synthetic hormones in bottles, teething rings and medical devices; formaldehyde in cribs and nail polish, and even rocket fuel in lettuce. Pacifiers are now manufactured with nanoparticles from silver, to be sold as ‘antibacterial.’ These exposures all add up – and the body can flush out some of these chemicals, while it cannot excrete others.  Chlorinated pesticides, such as DDT, for example, can remain in the body for 50 years.   Scientists call the chemicals in our body our “body burden”.  Everyone alive carries within their body at least 700 contaminants.[4]

This cumulative exposure could mean that at some point your body reaches a tipping point and, like falling dominoes, the stage is set for something disastrous happening to your health.

The generations born from 1970 on are the first to be raised in a truly toxified world. Probably one in three of the children you know suffers from a chronic illness – based on the finding of many studies on children’s health issues.[5]   It could be cancer, or birth defects – perhaps asthma, or a problem that affects the child’s mind and behavior, such as a learning disorder, ADHD or autism or even a peanut allergy. We do know, for example:

  • Childhood cancer, once a medical rarity, is the second leading cause of death (following accidents) in children aged 5 to 14 years.[6]
  • According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, for the period 2008-2010, asthma prevalence was higher among children than adults – and asthma rates for both continue to grow. [7]
  • Autism rates without a doubt have increased at least 200 percent.
  • Miscarriages and premature births are also on the rise,
  • while the ratio of male to female babies dwindles and
  • teenage girls face endometriosis.

Dr. Warren Porter delivered a talk at the 25th National Pesticide Forum in 2007, in which he explained that a lawn chemical used across the country, 2,4-D, mecoprop and dicambra was tested to see if it would change or alter the capacity of mice to keep fetuses in utero. The test found that the lowest dosage of this chemical had the greatest effect – a common endocrine response.[8]

Illness does not necessarily show up in childhood. Environmental exposures, from conception to early life, can set a person’s  cellular code for life and can cause disease at any time, through old age. And the new science of epigenetics is showing us that these exposures can impact not only us, but our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I think that pretty much demolishes the argument that chemicals in “trace amounts” don’t do us any harm.

Second, what about her contention that “chemicals are regulated under nearly a dozen federal agencies and regulations … which have undergone hundreds of safety tests.”

 The chief legal authority for regulating chemicals in the United States is the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).[9]

It is widely agreed that the TSCA is not doing the job of protecting us, and that the United States is in need of profound change in this area. Currently, legislation entitled the 2013 Chemical Safety Improvement Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of 26 senators, is designed to improve the outdated TSCA but it is still in committee.  The chemicals market values function, price and performance over safety, which poses a barrier to the scientific and commercial success of green chemistry in the United States and could ultimately hinder the U.S. chemical industry’s competitiveness in the global marketplace as green technologies accelerate under the European Union’s requirements.

We assume the TSCA is testing and regulating chemicals used in the industry[10]. It is not:

  • Of the more than 60,000 chemicals  in use prior to 1976, most were “grandfathered in”; only 263 were tested for safety and only 5 were restricted.  Today over 80,000 chemicals are routinely used in industry, and the number which have been tested for safety has not materially changed since 1976.  So we cannot know the risks of exposing ourselves to certain chemicals.  The default position is that no information about a chemical = no action.
  • The chemical spill which occurred in West Virginia in 2014 was of “crude MCHM”, or 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, one of the chemicals that was grandfathered into the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.   That means that nobody knows for sure what that chemical can do to us.
    • Carcinogenic effects? No information available.
    • Mutagenic effects? No information available.
    • Developmental toxicity? No information available.

Lack of information is the reason the local and federal authorities were so unsure of how to advise the local population about their drinking  water supplies.  (And by the way, in January, 2014,  a federal lawsuit was filed in Charleston, WV, which claims that the manufacturer of MCHM hid “highly toxic and carcinogenic properties” of components of MCHM, hexane and methanol, both of which have been tested and found to cause diseases such as cancer.)

We assume that the TSCA requires manufacturers to demonstrate that their chemicals are safe before they go into use. It does not:

  • The EPA requires a “Premanufacture Notification” of a new chemical, and no data of any kind is required[11].   The EPA receives between 40-50 each week and 8 out of 10 are approved, with or without test data, with no restrictions on their proposed use. As 3M puts it on their PMN forms posted on EPA’s web site, “You are not required to submit the listed test data if you do not have it.”
  • The TSCA says the government has to prove actual harm caused by the chemical in question before any controls can be put in place.  The catch-22 is that chemical companies don’t have to develop toxicity data or submit it to the EPA for an existing product unless the agency finds out that it will pose a risk to humans or the environment – which is difficult to do if there is no data in the first place.  Lack of evidence of harm is taken as evidence of no harm.

We assume that manufacturers must list all ingredients in a product, so if we have an allergy or reaction to certain chemicals we can check to see if the product is free of those chemicals. It does not:

  • The TSCA allows chemical manufacturers to keep ingredients in some products secret.   Nearly 20% of the 80,000 chemicals in use today are considered “trade secrets”.  This makes it impossible for consumers to find out what’s actually in a product.  And there is no time limit on the period in which a chemical can be considered a trade secret.

These limitations all help to perpetuate the chemical industry’s failure to innovate toward safer chemical and product design.  It’s one of the reasons the USA is one of the few nations in the world in which asbestos is not banned.

Finally, and because I just couldn’t resist: her example of using what she concedes are “toxic fragrances” to cover up that “other toxic stink – the one coming out of your baby” speaks for itself.

In conclusion, I don’t think that we’re being alarmist in trying to find better alternatives for products we use every day.  Nor are the promises of companies like Alba’s false.

 

[1] Living on Earth, March 16, 2012, http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=12-P13-00011&segmentID=1

[2] Sorensen, Eric, “Toxicants cause ovarian disease across generations”, Washington State University, http://news.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=31607

[3]http://www.sciguru.com/newsitem/13025/Epigenetic-changes-are-heritable-although-they-do-not-affect-DNA-structure  ALSO SEE: http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/agrawal/documents/HoleskiJanderAgrawal2012TREE.pdf ALSO SEE: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/32637/title/Lamarck-and-the-Missing-Lnc/

[4] http://www.chemicalbodyburden.org/whatisbb.htm

[5] Theofanidis, D, MSc., “Chronic Illness in Childhood: Psychosocial and Nursing Support for the Family”, Health Science Journal, http://www.hsj.gr/volume1/issue2/issue02_rev01.pdf

[6] Ward, Elizabeth, et al; Childhood and adolescent cancer statistics, 2014, CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Vol 64, issue 2, pp. 83-103, March/April 2014

[7] http://www.aaaai.org/about-the-aaaai/newsroom/asthma-statistics.aspx

[8] Porter, Warren, PhD; “Facing Scientific Realities: Debunking the “Dose Makes the Poison” Myth”, National Pesticide Forum, Chicago, 2007; http://www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pesticidesandyou/Winter%2007-08/dose-poison-debunk.pdf

[9] The “regulations” mentioned, all of which fall under the TSCA, might include:

  • the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chemical Action Plans for certain chemicals – to date, 10 chemicals have Chemical Action Plans in place. These plans attempt to outline the risks each chemical may present and identify the specific steps the agency is taking to address the concerns.
  • Confidential Business Information (CBI) – designed to protect intellectual property and confidential business information.
  • Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) Rule: use and exposure information to help the EPA screen and prioritize chemicals for additional review.
  • Chemical Prioritization: Which allows the EPA to identify which chemicals in commerce warrant additional review.
  • Risk Assessment: Under TSCA, EPA assesses chemicals using conservative assumptions about the possible hazards a chemical may pose.

[10] http://www.chemicalindustryarchives.org/factfiction/testing.asp

[11] Ibid.

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Do we exaggerate the dangers of conventional fabrics?

18 06 2014

We received a comment on one of our blog posts recently in which the reader chastised us for exaggerating issues which they believe are disproportionate to the facts. In their words: For instance formaldehyde… is a volatile chemical…no doubt it is used in the textile industry a great deal…but looking for this chemical in end products is an example chasing a ghost…. It has to be put in perspective. I do not know of any citation that a human developed cancer because they wore durable press finished clothing.

Please follow along as I itemize the reasons that we don’t feel the issues are exaggerated.

Textiles are full of chemicals. The chemicals found in fabrics have been deemed to be, even by conservative organizations such as the Swedish government, simply doing us no good – and even harming us in ways ranging from subtle to profound. But fabrics are just one of the many stressors that people face during the day: these stressors (i.e., chemicals of concern) are in our food, our cosmetics, our electronics, our cleaning products, in dust in our houses and pollution from automobile exhaust in our air.  This is not even close to an exhaustive list of the products containing the kinds of chemical stressors we face each day. And this is a new thing – it wasn’t until around the middle of the last century that these synthetic chemicals became so ubiquitous. Remember “better living through chemistry”? And if you don’t know the history of such events as Minamata, or about places like Dzershinsk, Russia or Hazaribagh, Bangladesh, then do some homework to get up to speed.

Add to that the fact that new research is being done which is profoundly changing our old belief systems. For example, we used to think that a little dose of a poison would do a little bit of harm, and a big dose would do a lot of harm (i.e., “the dose makes the poison”) – because water can kill you just as surely as arsenic, given sufficient quantity.   The new paradigm shows that exposure to even tiny amounts of chemicals (in the parts-per-trillion range) can have significant impacts on our health – in fact some chemcials impact the body profoundly in the parts per trillion range, but do little harm at much greater dosages. The old belief system did not address how chemicals can change the subtle organization of the brain. Now, according to Dr. Laura Vandenberg of the Tufts University Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology [1] “we found chemicals that are working at that really low level, which can take a brain that’s in a girl animal and make it look like a brain from a boy animal, so, really subtle changes that have really important effects.”

In making a risk assessment of any chemical, we now also know that timing and order of exposure is critical – exposures can happen all at once, or one after the other, and that can make a world of difference.   And we also know another thing: mixtures of chemicals 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.

And finally, the new science called “epigenetics” is finding that pollutants and chemicals might be altering the 20,000-25,000 genes we’re born with—not by mutating or killing them, but by sending subtle signals that silence them or switch them on at the wrong times.  This can set the stage for diseases which can be passed down for generations. So exposure to chemicals can alter genetic expression, not only in your children, but in your children’s children – and their children too. Researchers at Washington State University found that when pregnant rats were exposed to permethrin, DEET or any of a number of industrial chemicals, the mother rats’ great granddaughters had higher risk of early puberty and malfunctioning ovaries — even though those subsequent generations had not been exposed to the chemical. [2]  Another recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg—many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and  diabetes. Other studies are being published which corroborate these findings.[3]

So that’s the thing: we’re exposed to chemicals all day, every day – heavy metals and carcinogenic particles in air pollution; industrial solvents, household detergents, Prozac (and a host of other pharmaceuticals) and radioactive wastes in drinking water; pesticides in flea collars; artificial growth hormones in beef, arsenic in chicken; synthetic hormones in bottles, teething rings and medical devices; formaldehyde in cribs and nail polish, and even rocket fuel in lettuce. Pacifiers are now manufactured with nanoparticles from silver, to be sold as ‘antibacterial.’ These exposures all add up – and the body can flush out some of these chemicals, while it cannot excrete others.  Chlorinated pesticides, such as DDT, for example, can remain in the body for 50 years.   Scientists call the chemicals in our body our “body burden”.  Everyone alive carries within their body at least 700 contaminants.[4]

This cumulative exposure could mean that at some point your body reaches a tipping point and, like falling dominoes, the stage is set for something disastrous happening to your health.

I am especially concerned because these manufactured chemicals – not just the elements which have been with us forever but those synthetic combinations  – have not been tested, so we don’t really have a clue what they’re doing to us.

But back to our main argument:

The generations born from 1970 on are the first to be raised in a truly toxified world. Probably one in three of the children you know suffers from a chronic illness – based on the finding of many studies on children’s health issues.[5]   It could be cancer, or birth defects – perhaps asthma, or a problem that affects the child’s mind and behavior, such as a learning disorder, ADHD or autism or even a peanut allergy. We do know, for example:

Childhood cancer, once a medical rarity, is the second leading cause of death (following accidents) in children aged 5 to 14 years.[6]

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, for the period 2008-2010, asthma prevalence was higher among children than adults – and asthma rates for both continue to grow. [7]

Autism rates without a doubt have increased at least 200 percent.

Miscarriages and premature births are also on the rise,

while the ratio of male to female babies dwindles and

teenage girls face endometriosis.

Dr. Warren Porter delivered a talk at the 25th National Pesticide Forum in 2007, in which he explained that a lawn chemical used across the country, 2,4-D, mecoprop and dicambra was tested to see if it would change or alter the capacity of mice to keep fetuses in utero. The test found that the lowest dosage of this chemical had the greatest effect – a common endocrine response.[8]

Illness does not necessarily show up in childhood. Environmental exposures, from conception to early life, can set a person’s  cellular code for life and can cause disease at any time, through old age. And the new science of epigenetics is showing us that these exposures can impact not only us, but our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Let’s look at the formaldehyde which our reader mentioned. Formaldehyde is one of many chemical stressors – and it is used in fabrics as finishes to prevent stains and wrinkles (for example, most cotton/poly sheet sets found in the US have a formaldehyde finish), but it’s also used as a binding agent in printing inks, for the hardening of casein fibers, as a wool protection , and for its anti-mold properties.

Formaldehyde is a listed human carcinogen.  Besides being associated with watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, difficulty in breathing, coughing, some pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), asthma attacks, chest tightness, headaches, and general fatigue, as well as well documented skin rashes, formaldehyde is associated with more severe health issues:  For example, it could cause nervous system damage by its known ability to react with and form cross-linking with proteins, DNA and unsaturated fatty acids. These same mechanisms could cause damage to virtually any cell in the body, since all cells contain these substances. Formaldehyde can react with the nerve protein (neuroamines) and nerve transmitters (e.g., catecholamines), which could impair normal nervous system function and cause endocrine disruption.[9]

Formaldehyde in clothing is not regulated in the United States, but 13 countries do have laws that regulate the amount of formaldehyde allowed in clothing.   Greenpeace tested a series of Disney clothing articles and found from 23ppm – 1,100 ppm of formaldehyde in 8 of the 16 products tested.  In 2008, more than 600 people joined a class action suit against Victoria’s Secret, claiming horrific skin reactions (and permanent scarring for some) as a result of wearing Victoria Secret’s bras.   Lawsuits were filed in Florida and New York – after the lawyers found formaldehyde in the bras. Then in January 2009, new blue uniforms issued to Transportation Security Administration officers, gave them skin rashes, bloody noses, lightheadedness, red eyes, and swollen and cracked lips, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing the officers – because of the formaldehyde in the uniforms.[10]

Studies have been done which link formaldehyde in indoor air as a risk factor for childhood asthma[11]. Rates of formaldehyde in indoor air have grown from 0.014 ppm in 1980 to 0.2 ppm in 2010 – and these rates are increasing.

Studies have also been found which link formaldehyde to a variety of ailments in textile workers, specifically: Besides being a well known irritant of the eyes, nose and upper and lower airways, as well as being a cause of occupational asthma[12], a number of studies have linked formaldehyde exposure with the development of lung and nasopharyngeal cancers[13] and with myeloid leukemia. [14]   A cohort study by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found a link in textile workers between length of exposure to formaldehyde and leukemia deaths.[15] By the way, OSHA has established a Federal standard what restricts the amount of formaldehyde that a worker can be exposed to over an 8 hour workday – currently that’s 0.75 ppm.

That means if you have 0.2 ppm of formaldehyde in your indoor air, and your baby is wearing the Disney Finding Nemo t-shirt which registered as 1,100 ppm – what do you think the formaldehyde is doing to your baby?

So our argument is not that any one piece of clothing can necessarily do irreparable harm to somebody – but if that piece of clothing contains a chemical (pick any one of a number of chemicals) that is part of what scientists call our “body burden”, then it just might be the thing that pushes you over the edge. And if you can find products that do not contain the chemicals of concern, why would you not use them, given the risk of not doing so?

 

[1] Living on Earth, March 16, 2012, http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=12-P13-00011&segmentID=1

[2] Sorensen, Eric, “Toxicants cause ovarian disease across generations”, Washington State University, http://news.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=31607

[3]http://www.sciguru.com/newsitem/13025/Epigenetic-changes-are-heritable-although-they-do-not-affect-DNA-structure  ALSO SEE: http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/agrawal/documents/HoleskiJanderAgrawal2012TREE.pdf ALSO SEE: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/32637/title/Lamarck-and-the-Missing-Lnc/

[4] http://www.chemicalbodyburden.org/whatisbb.htm

[5] Theofanidis, D, MSc., “Chronic Illness in Childhood: Psychosocial and Nursing Support for the Family”, Health Science Journal, http://www.hsj.gr/volume1/issue2/issue02_rev01.pdf

[6] Ward, Elizabeth, et al; Childhood and adolescent cancer statistics, 2014, CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Vol 64, issue 2, pp. 83-103, March/April 2014

[7] http://www.aaaai.org/about-the-aaaai/newsroom/asthma-statistics.aspx

[8] Porter, Warren, PhD; “Facing Scientific Realities: Debunking the “Dose Makes the Poison” Myth”, National Pesticide Forum, Chicago, 2007; http://www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pesticidesandyou/Winter%2007-08/dose-poison-debunk.pdf

[9] Horstmann, M and McLachlan, M; “Textiles as a source of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurrans (PCDD/F) in human skin and sewage sludge”, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Vol 1, Number 1, 15-20, DOI: 10.1007/BF02986918  SEE ALSO:  Klasmeier, K, et al; “PCDD/F’s in textiles – part II: transfer from clothing to human skin”, Ecological Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Bayreuth,  CHEMOSPHERE, 1.1999 38(1):97-108 See Also:  Hansen,E and Hansen, C; “Substance Flow Analysis for Dioxin 2002”, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Project No.811 2003

[10] http://www.examiner.com/article/new-tsa-uniforms-making-workers-sick-afge-demands-replacement

[11] Rumchev, K.B., et al, “Domestic exposure to formaldehyde significantly increases the risk of asthma in young children”, Microsoft Academic Search 2002

[12] Thrasher JD etal., “Immune activation and autoantibodies in humans with long-term inhalation exposure to formaldehyde,” Archive Env. Health, 45: 217-223, 1990.

[13] Hauptmann M, Lubin JH, Stewart PA, Hayes RB, Blair A. Mortality from solid cancers among workers in formaldehyde industries. American Journal of Epidemiology 2004; 159(12):1117–1130

 

[14] National Cancer Institute, “Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk”, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/formaldehyde

[15] Pinkerton, LE, Hein, MJ and Stayner, LT, “Mortality among a cohort of garment
workers exposed to formaldehyde: an update”, Occupational Environmental 
Medicine, 2004 March, 61(3): 193-200.

 

 

 





50th Anniversary of SILENT SPRING

24 07 2012

I just read the article by Lynne Peeples in Huffington Post Green, entitled “Chemistry Lessons:  Living with Rachel Carson’s Legacy” which caught my eye because I’ve been reading about Merchants of Doubt, the new book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, in which they conclude that the far right in America, in its quest to ensure the perpetuation of the free market, is now hell-bent on destroying the cause of environmentalism.   One of the icons of the environmental movement,  Rachel Carson,  has come under attack [1]: she is  being blamed for deaths caused by the banning of DDT.

“Millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm,” states one site set up by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “That person is Rachel Carson.” Another site goes further: “Fifty million dead,” while a third claims: “More deaths likely.” [2]  As Merchants of Doubt makes clear, DDT was banned not just because it was accumulating in the food chain but because mosquitoes were developing resistance to it. The pesticide was losing its usefulness long before it was taken out of commercial production.  “And in the demonising of Rachel Carson, free marketeers realised that if you could convince people that an example of successful government regulation wasn’t, in fact, successful – that it was actually a mistake – you could strengthen the argument against regulation in general,” state Oreskes and Conway.

But you should read Merchants of Doubt for yourself.

Lynne Peeples’ article examines five of the assumptions Carson intuitively suspected, and compares them with newfound research which corroborates Carson’s assumptions.  It’s a chilling read, and I think so important that I’ve reproduced it below in full:

As you read this, a menagerie of chemical pollutants is coursing through your body. What you do and how you live doesn’t matter. You have inhaled them, you’ve eaten them, you’ve absorbed them through your skin. You’re doing it right now.

If you are an average American, your personal chemical inventory — embedded in your blood, your breath and your bones — will include an alphabet soup of phthalates, mercury, perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A, and assorted chemical flame retardants.

If you are a new mother, you are passing these chemicals to your child through your breast milk. If you are pregnant, you are delivering them through your umbilical cord.

These inescapable realities of modern life — realities that have vexed environmental advocates and worried scientists for years — are not new. They were all foreseen, with sometimes chilling accuracy, 50 years ago this summer, when an unassuming marine biologist from Springdale, Penn., named Rachel Carson began publishing a series of articles in The New Yorker Magazine. Carson’s essays, which accused the chemical industry of calculated deception and American regulators of wanton disregard for the proliferation of pesticides and other chemical pollutants released into the environment, would ultimately be published as the book “Silent Spring” — considered by many to be the clarion call of the modern environmental movement.

Today, one study after another repeats the same cautions Carson raised decades ago, including how the tiniest chemical exposures can lead to long-term harm, especially to children.

“We’ve discovered many things that Carson intuitively anticipated, and also some things that she would’ve never imagined,” says John Peterson Myers, CEO and chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences.

Optimists, Myers included, suggest that, by combining Carson’s prescient insights with modern advancements in biology and chemistry, we can preserve the health of future generations.

In 2010, chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer surpassed infectious diseases as the leading causes of death across the world, notes Bruce Lanphear, an environmental health expert at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “That can be seen as both troubling and an opportunity,” he says, suggesting that we have the potential to eliminate some of the exposures now implicated in chronic diseases. “The problem is that it is really the mega-corporations that are designing, or keeping us from developing, regulatory policies to protect people.”

More than 80,000 chemicals currently used in the U.S. have never been fully tested for their potential to harm humans or the environment, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Maybe we didn’t heed a warning,” says environmental activist and lawyer Erin Brockovich. “Can we really afford to wait another 50 years?”

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring, Huffington decided to review five of Rachel Carson’s warnings made decades ago to see how they measure up today.

#1: “Every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.”

A few years before she was pregnant with her first child, Elsie, Hannah Pingree got tested for toxic chemicals as part of a demonstration study by public health groups.

Although she has lived most of her life on an island 12 miles off the coast of Maine, her blood, hair and urine showed high levels of flame retardants, mercury and phthalates. “I was living nowhere near anything industrial,” says Pingree, former Speaker of the Maine House and now a consultant for “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families,” a national coalition working to reform toxic chemical regulation. “This was simply from interacting with the environment and in my home.”

Pingree is now pregnant with her second child. As she knows, and as Carson suggested but had no way of proving at the time, exposures to toxic chemicals begin in the womb. Whatever exposures a mother encounters, so too does her future child.
As Carson wrote in The New Yorker on June 30, 1962: toxic chemicals have “entered the environment of almost everyone — even of children as yet unborn.” Within the body of the story, was an ad from the chemical giant Dupont Co. promoting its motto: “Better Things For Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

“Back in mid-century, a lot of people thought that the placenta was a barrier to environmental chemicals,” says Tracey Woodruff, a reproductive health expert at the University of California, San Francisco. It was some 40 years after Silent Spring’s publication when scientists finally confirmed Carson’s hunch — finding nearly 300 different industrial chemicals in samples of umbilical cord blood.

Pingree also knows, as did Carson, that a rapidly developing fetus or child is particularly vulnerable to the effects of those chemical exposures. Childhood cancer may be one tragic consequence. Carson pointed out that “more American school children die of cancer than from any other disease.” A statistic that holds true today.

In many cases, however, the effects of early life exposures don’t appear for decades, and once they do, they’re almost impossible to trace back to their origins, Carson noted. “A child is not going to necessarily wake up with some rash, but they may later have cancer at age 50,” says Pingree. She is less worried about her now 16-month-old’s “daily survival,” and more about the long-term effects of “things like pesticides and the plastic she’s chewing on.”

Still, Myers, the chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, points to a “remarkable ray of hope.”

“We’re learning that we actually may be able to prevent chronic diseases of adulthood by reducing exposures in the womb,” he says.


#2: “Once they were kept in containers marked with skull and crossbones.”

Pingree does everything she can to limit both her and Elsie’s chemical exposures. Like other parents, however, she finds the task frustrating.

“It’s impossible for a parent to live their life trying to make the right decisions about chemicals. There are so many things we don’t know,” says Pingree. “We have this system that allows all of us to have these levels of consumer and industrial chemicals without any idea how they got in there.”

Potentially toxic chemicals are pervasive yet generally invisible — from pajamas treated with flame retardants to bisphenol-A leaching out of plastic bottles to pesticides lingering on fruits.

Parents faced much the same predicament 50 years ago. “Lulled by the soft sell and the hidden persuader,” wrote Carson, “the average citizen is seldom aware of the deadly materials with which he is surrounding himself.”

Manufacturers are rarely required to disclose ingredients in their products, notes Woodruff. And when they do, there are often loopholes such as the requirement that a pesticide label need only include the names of “active” ingredients.

“You can’t know it if you don’t see it,” she says.

Further, disclosures are irrelevant if no tests have been done to identify harmful effects. This is the case for tens of thousands of chemicals common in consumer products. Aside from substances designed to be ingested as food or drug, newly developed commercial chemicals are virtually unregulated in the U.S. — until and unless they are proven harmful.

“The burden of proof in this country is on proving a chemical is dangerous rather than on the side of those who introduce the chemical to prove that it is safe,” says Eric Chivian, director of Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. Europe, he notes, has it the other way around.

Carson expressed her own frustration with the U.S. government’s lack of chemical regulation.” If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials,” wrote Carson, “it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”

Of course, there are also those unintentional ingredients that find their way into products today without anyone’s knowledge. A study published in May suggested that peanut butter can be a source of trace amounts of flame retardants.

“There are always little surprises that we’re finding,” says Woodruff.
#3: “The chemical war is never won, and all life is caught in its violent crossfire.”

Though women’s nylons were the subject of the 1962 DuPont ad that adorned Carson’s New Yorker article, the company also had a big hand in the pesticide business. In fact, DuPont was a major manufacturer of the prime antagonist in Silent Spring: DDT.

Worry over the widespread aerial spraying of the pesticide inspired Carson to pursue her book.

“Not only forests and cultivated fields are sprayed, but towns and cities as well,” she wrote. “The legend that the herbicides are toxic only to plants and so pose no threat to animal life has been widely disseminated, but unfortunately it is not true.”

While DDT was banned in the U.S. a decade after the publication of her book, and subsequently banned for agricultural use worldwide, Carson’s concerns persist. DDT remains in limited use for the control of mosquito-borne diseases and replacement pesticides now pose their own risks.

Environmental advocates fear widespread poisoning, as well as a continuing arms race with nature that they say humans are destined to lose.

“Evidence of aerial spraying this year in California points to the pesticide treadmill that Carson had acknowledged 50 years ago,” says Paul Towers of the nonprofit Pesticide Action Network.

Mosquito districts in the state are enlisting more toxic chemicals than they had in years past for the control of West Nile Virus due to concerns over pesticide resistance in mosquitoes. Insects that can withstand a spray are more likely to spawn the next generation of pests. And over time, this survival of the fittest can render useless whatever chemical concoction is employed.

Meanwhile, industrial agriculture may soon transition to a genetically-modified corn resistant to two common pesticides, Roundup and 2,4-D, in response to growing resistance among weeds. The result, advocates fear, is the use of stronger doses of the herbicides. Roundup has been shown to disrupt human hormones; 2,4-D was a component of Agent Orange.

Matt Liebman, of Iowa State University, foresees weeds evolving resistance to the new variety of corn within a few years. “Then we’ll be on same treadmill that we’ve been on,” he says.

“Carson was not arguing for banning all pesticides,” notes John Wargo of Yale University, who spent six months going through 117 boxes of Carson’s personal files. “She was simply arguing against the broad-scale prophylactic application that would lead to widespread contamination and exposure. Her arguments follow a train of logic and a narrative that would be extremely useful today.”

#4: “The contamination of our world is not alone a matter of mass spraying. Indeed, for most of us this is of less importance than the innumerable small-scale exposures to which we are subjected day by day, year after year.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that there is no safe level of lead in the bloodstreams of children. Even in tiny amounts, exposures to the heavy metal via dust and flakes of lead paint can damage a child’s developing brain.

Scientists today are also heard stating similarly grim warnings about a growing number of environmental toxins, found in a lengthening list of places.

“People took Carson somewhat seriously in the case of DDT, but she was also talking in very broad terms about chemicals,” says Pingree. Whether from eating a piece of salmon or breathing in second-hand smoke or chemicals sprayed on a lawn, each of our everyday exposures may be tiny, though not necessarily insignificant.

“One part in a million sounds like a very small amount — and so it is,” wrote Carson, referencing a likely amount of pesticide residue on food. “But such substances are so potent that a minute quantity can bring about vast changes in the body.”

Lanphear of Simon Frasier University notes that we are now worrying about even smaller exposures than Carson was suggesting. “Parts per billion,” he says.

Recent research has also questioned the popular notion that “the dose makes the poison.” Minuscule concentrations of chemicals that disrupt hormones — common in industrial pollution, pesticides and plastics — may have potent effects, sometimes even when large doses of the same chemical appear harmless. Some chemicals also can accumulate in the environment and the human body, where they can combine and interact with other chemicals.

“This is why there is no ‘safe’ dose of a carcinogen,” Carson wrote. Carson pointed out one combination of chemicals that had already raised red flags among scientists: malathion mixed with other organophosphate pesticides. Administered together, she wrote, “a massive poisoning results — up to 50 times as severe as would be predicted on the basis of adding together the toxicities of the two.”

Organophosphates, including malathion, are still in use today.

“Things are far more complicated chemically than they were in Carson’s time,” says Wargo. “There are so many uses of many more active ingredients, inert ingredients and differently formulated products that it’s become difficult for governments to identify the risks.”

“We are now living in a world probably beyond what Carson could have ever imagined, in terms of the number of chemicals kids interact with every day,” says Pingree. “And we’re having all the impacts that she worried about.”

#5: “These injuries to the genetic material are of a kind that may lead to disease in the individual exposed or they may make their effects felt in future generations.”

In other words, if you happen to be obese or infertile, facing cancer or diabetes or any number of other diseases, it might well have something to do with your father’s exposure to a plastic toy in 1955, or even his father’s exposure to his comrades’ chemical-laced second-hand smoke after he successfully stormed the beach at Normandy. Your own children and grandchildren may even pay the price of the ancestral exposures.

Carson hinted at this possible new spin on nature versus nurture 50 years ago, and scientists are only now confirming her suspicions.

“That was a very insightful comment for the time,” says Michael Skinner, a leading expert in an emerging field called epigenetics at Washington State University. “It came long before we had any data, before anything was appreciated about this.”

Studies published over the last couple of months have bolstered the notion that toxic chemicals in our ancestors’ environment could help explain cases of a variety of diseases and cognitive problems that we and our children suffer today — even without exposure to the contaminants ourselves.

“Many behavioral diseases like autism run in families but do not follow normal genetic patterns,” says Skinner. “Our findings really fit the bill.”

Environmental insults don’t necessarily have to alter our genetic code to cause lasting trouble, Skinner and other scientists have discovered. They also can disrupt the body’s ability to interpret these inherited instructions, and in certain cases, this so-called epigenetic defect is handed down and becomes more pronounced in subsequent generations.

A young soldier exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, for example, or a kid caught in a drift of DDT insect repellant on his 1950s cul-de-sac, might well pass on health consequences to their children, and then to their children’s children, and so on down the family line.

Myers says that he used to “draw solace” from the belief that environmental contaminants such as plasticizers and flame retardants, now likely linked to conditions such as diabetes and asthma, were not affecting any inheritable information. In other words, if you were to remove the exposure, most people thought that the next generation would be spared.

“This casts a significant shadow of a doubt,” he said, “on that assumption.”