Are We Raising the Most Polluted Generation in the History of the Planet?

That was the question I asked a month ago, when I gave a TEDx talk in the beautiful art deco masterpiece, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, in Brussels, Belgium. Brussels is the home of the European Union and I looked out on an audience comprised of leading political, intellectual, technological and creative influencers all looking at me like I was certifiably crazy.

It was clearly something that most of them have never considered, and it’s probably news to you too, but human newborns are one of the most polluted species on the planet, born with hundreds of chemicals floating through their umbilical cord blood.

A US study found 287 chemicals present in newborn babies, 180 of which are known to cause cancer in animals or humans.

Studies in Europe and Canada arrived at the same conclusion. In fact, there has yet to be a study conducted that has NEVER found toxic chemical pollution present in umbilical cord samples. What this means is that our babies are being born already polluted.

Scientists have begun to understand that a host of diseases have their roots in the womb environment, the place where our children spend the first ten months of their life.

“Womb ecology is the most vital form of human ecology.” Pioneering obstetrician Dr. Michel Odent.

Image of quote taken from the film TOXIC BABY. Courtesy Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

Image taken from the film TOXIC BABY. Courtesy Penelope Jagessar Chaffer.

Image of quote taken from the film TOXIC BABY. Courtesy Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

Image taken from the film TOXIC BABY. Courtesy Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

This pollution in the womb and the subsequent exposure to thousands of chemicals in our day to day environment is now thought to be one of the, if not the primary cause of the stratospheric rise in chronic childhood disease.

Leo Trasande rise in childhood disease from Penelope Jagessar Chaffer on Vimeo.

Childhood cancer rise animation from Penelope Jagessar Chaffer on Vimeo.

So where is this pollution coming from? The uncomfortable, heartbreaking truth is that it is us, the mothers, that donate our toxicity to our children when we are pregnant and when they are born we then expose them again, when we feed them, wash them and clothe them and raise them in our homes.

How could this be happening in 2015? Well it’s mainly because we now know that toxic chemicals can change gene expression and can affect the way the human body develops in the same way as drugs do but yet chemicals are not regulated in the same way as drugs.

chemicals not regulated graphic from Penelope Jagessar Chaffer on Vimeo.

How could this be happening? Well it’s happening for a myriad of reasons. Chemicals are easy to access and cheap to use (and a lot of that cheapness is because there is no requirement for companies to test their own chemicals to Government standards), Government agencies do not have laws in place to address much of this toxicity concern, voters have not insisted that these laws been passed. It’s a complex and complicated situation.

So what is it that we can do? Well whether we have kids already, are pregnant or planning a baby we need to clean up our lives. is an amazing site with tons of tips to help you navigate our toxic environments. Explore it at length. Find a tribe of like minded souls and commit yourself to detoxing your life.

Know however this is just the beginning. This whole nightmare requires a complete rethink in the way we manufacture and purchase, the way we put things out into the environment and how we can’t take those things back when we find out they are doing harm.

Ultimately the most important thing you can do is to exercise your enormous power as a consumer and a voter in the world’s most powerful democracy and let companies and your elected representatives know you care about toxic chemical exposure. Tweet to them, write on their FB wall, pick up the phone, send an email or even go old school and write a letter.

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

I’ve spoken to aides in Washington who have said even a handful of messages of voters can be enough to get an elected official to vote a certain way. The powers that be need to here from YOU the consumer, the most important link in the chain of consumerism, the engine that drives our economy.

At the end of the day though there is a morality about this, that is more than about dollars and cents. As mothers and guardians of our children and our planet we need to ask ourselves this question.

Image taken from the film TOXIC BABY. Courtesy Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

Image taken from the film TOXIC BABY. Courtesy Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

What do you think? Is it ok to have polluted babies? Is this a moral issue? Shout out in the comments what you think? What’s the best way for us to move forward as a society? What are you doing to make your life and home less toxic? And what do you think we should be doing moving forward? I’m fascinated to hear your thoughts…

Published on: January 12, 2015
About the Author
Photo of Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

Penelope Jagessar Chaffer is a multi award winning documentary filmmaker, writer, feminist, children’s environmental health advocate and global environmentalist. She is the director, producer and writer of Toxic Baby, a feature documentary that looks at how chemicals in the environment affect the health and development of babies and children.

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Recent Comments

It is absolutely not OK that human newborns are one of the most polluted species on the planet. This is simply unacceptable. The most shocking component is the lack of education surrounding this issue. Pregnant women, by and large, are completely in the dark when it comes health risks relating to toxic chemical exposure in the home. Thank you Penelope for providing a plethora of information. Hopefully through sharing and continued discussion this information will start to sink in and we, as a culture, will understand the gravity of the situation.

The power is in our hands to create change. We can change our toxicity patterns before we become pregnant and continue these pattern so the next generation can learn.

It all starts with education like Dr Greene and your movie.

It’s incredible. And by incredible I mean horrifying. As woman in my mid-thirties I think about the kind of ecosystem I may be creating for a future baby. Are these stressors of pollutants in our body fair to put on women? I think not. Nor is it fair for future generations. Thanks for all your leadership in this space Penelope. The world is a better place because your’e in it.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my first child I started buying organic and natural. But, cost is a very limiting factor and even our air and water are polluted. It’s scary but I’m not sure how much we can do to protect ourselves. Just do what we can and hope for the best.

“Human newborns are one of the most polluted species on the planet” – this should strike fear in to all of our hearts! I have a special needs child and am a cancer survivor. I feel confident that at least some of my family’s challenges are due to the toxins in the environment around us. Thank you for everything you do to raise awareness.

Great article! It is so scary all the chemicals we face and how slow legislation is to keep up with it.