We Are Sinking in a Chemical Swamp

The news was astounding. When researchers tested the blood in the umbilical cords of newborn babies, they found 273 different commercial chemicals. That means that all those chemicals passed the placental barrier and reached the developing fetus’s body. Babies today are swimming in a contaminated sea of chemicals called the amniotic fluid.

Then the news broke that there are about 80,000 chemicals sold commercially in the U.S. today, used in almost every manufacturing process, from TV dinners to furniture polish. But surely the Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration has checked these chemicals for toxicity and issued guidelines for their safe use, right?


“Under current laws,” writes Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post for August 1, 2010, “the government has little or no information about the health risks posed by most of the 80,000 chemicals on the U.S. market today.” She reports, for example, that Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, and Honey Smacks this summer because of elevated levels of 2-methylnaphthalene in the packaging. Complaints came in from consumers about a strange taste and odor, and some cases of nausea and diarrhea were reported. Kellogg issued a statement saying a panel of experts they hired concluded there was no harmful material in the products. But the FDA has no data on 2-methylnaphthalene’s impact on human health. The EPA also has no data on the chemical’s health and safety—even though they’ve been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.

But it gets worse. When the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, it exempted from control 62,000 chemicals then in common use, including 2-methylnaphthalene. Furthermore, chemicals developed and sold into commerce since 1976 don’t have to be tested for safety. The chemical companies are supposed to forward any safety data to the government, which will then decide if further testing is needed or if the chemical should be banned. Talk about a disincentive for doing safety testing! The chemical industry isn’t in business to protect the health and safety of the public. It’s in business to make chemicals and sell them for a profit.

Now, nature has created a system for keeping harmful substances away from babies in their mothers’ wombs. Among many other functions, the placenta can screen out toxic substances. But the placental system developed before there were manmade chemicals, and the screening system prevents mostly natural toxics—toxins in plants for the most part–from reaching the baby. The fact that 273 synthetic chemicals crossed the placenta from the mother to the baby shows that not only does the placenta fail to deal with manmade synthetic chemicals, but that we all are living in a chemical swamp, and that no one is doing much testing at all about the safety of tens of thousands of chemicals.

There is something you can do. Eat organic food and only organic food. Many if not most of the chemicals in our bodies come in through the food we eat. By its very definition and by law, organic food cannot be grown or processed with synthetic chemicals.

For the health and safety of us all, and especially for women either pregnant or thinking about conceiving, organic food is pure food that will not add to the toxic load we all carry.

Published on: September 29, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Jeff Cox

Jeff Cox is the author of 19 books on food, wine, and gardening from the organic perspective, including the James Beard Foundation-nominated "The Organic Cook's Bible.". He's the former managing editor of Organic Gardening magazine and has hosted two TV series on gardening, Your Organic Garden on PBS and Grow It! on HGTV.

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