From 1973 to 1999, childhood cancers increased by 26 percent, making cancer the greatest health threat to children. Currently, one in a 100 8-year-old children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers, and the number might be as high as 1 in 58 for boys, according to a phone survey in the journal, Pediatrics. According to Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth, one out of every three U.S. kids currently suffers from allergies, asthma, ADHD, or autism—our children’s bodies are clearly under assault. But why?
In yesterday’s article I mentioned how, as one concerned father, I set out to try to find out the dangers that are children are facing and how I learned about something called endocrine disruption, or the disruption of the hormones that control everything from mood to gene expression.
As I was researching my fact-based novel, one of the things I discovered was that since World War Two, approximately 80,000 chemicals have been invented, and thousands of these have been produced in excess of millions of pounds per year. Only a small percentage of these chemicals have ever been tested to discover their effects on animals and humans. (If you want to discover how the chemical industry undermined government regulation, watch Bill Moyers brave and brilliant documentary, Trade Secrets.)
We feed these chemicals to our children through the chemicals on the food they eat, in the water they drink, in the lotions we put on their skin, in the products that they touch, and even in the air they breath. A recent study of fetal cord blood—the blood a child is born with before they take their first breath—found 413 chemicals and on average more than 200 different chemicals per child.
Many endocrine disrupting chemicals are plastics. You may have heard of the chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is a plasticizer that has been used to make plastic bottles (including baby bottles), to coat children’s teeth so they don’t get cavities, and to line canned food. In lab animals (we can not do controlled studies on people for obvious reasons), BPA has been shown to impair brain development, cause down syndrome, cause breast cancer, prostate cancer, low sperm count, and even obesity.
Obesity? Have a look at this picture. The mouse on the left is a normal mouse; the one on the right was exposed to tiny amounts of BPA during its gestation. Could exposure to this chemical, seven billion pounds of which is produced and put into our environment every year, play a role in the epidemic in adult and childhood obesity that is spreading around the world?
Why don’t you know about this? Well, let’s just say there are lots of people who don’t want you to know about this and have worked hard to obscure the facts. On Sunday, May 31, 2009, the Washington Post broke the story that manufacturers of packaging for beverages and foods, including some of their customers, like Coca-Cola, were trying to defend the use of BPA and use “scare tactics” to make sure that the chemical was not banned. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if some of the villains from my novel had come to life. But if I had my characters try to recruit a pregnant woman to discuss the benefits of BPA—as they industry execs apparently did—no one would have believed it.
Out of shortsighted economic interests, also known as greed, we are conducting an unprecedented experiment on the health of our children.
Tomorrow, we will look at how what’s happening to our children is happening to the whole planet, and the next day why some children get sick and other’s don’t. Then we’ll discover the silver lining and what can turn this around. Finally, on Friday, we look at what you can do to try to keep your family safe.