The Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, headed by Dr. Phil Landrigan, held an educational forum for 200 mothers and advocates in New York City 12/5/11 entitled “Birth Defects, Learning Disabilities, Obesity and Breast Cancer: How Can We Avoid the Effects of Toxic Chemicals?” It explored the connection between toxic chemical exposure during pregnancy or in early childhood to common health effects. I learned a new word: “Obesogen,” or a chemical that blocks the bodies natural hormones that regulate metabolism, and can actually contribute to children becoming overweight. Speakers included the following:
• Judy Enck, US EPA, informed the audience that 80,000 chemicals are in use in the U.S. but only 200 have been thoroughly tested for safety. The EPA would like to see a reform to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
• Dr. Shanna Swan, said that one study found 397 different contaminants in babies umbilical cords, so babies are being born “pre-polluted.” Hormone disrupting chemicals, such as phthalates and some pesticides, have been found to decrease masculine characteristics of male babies.
• Dr. Amir Miodovnik mentioned chemicals that affect brain development, including even the hormone-disrupting phthalates. They decrease the mother’s thyroid hormones that the fetus needs to develop normally. PBDEs (fire retardants) found in foam furniture, electronics, and mattresses have been found in breast milk, and exposure in mothers was correlated to hyperactivity and anxiety in their children.
• Dr. Maida Galvez described clinical studies that are finding girls reaching puberty as early as 7 years old because of exposure to estrogen mimicking chemicals in common products such as shampoos and lotions.
• Dr. Michelle La Merrill spoke about obesogens and the possible link to controversial chemical Bisphenol A, which has been banned in baby bottles in New York State. She also said something shocking: that chemicals that evaporate and blow in the wind often end up falling back down where the air is cold, namely on glaciers, so now that climate change is melting glaciers, the chemicals are being re-released back into the water or air.
• How to avoid chemicals exposures? Three major actions: Avoid pesticides, plastics, and don’t smoke. Dr. Landrigan said that people who eat organic food have 90% less chemical residues in their bodies. He also said to eat lower on the food chain and avoid animal fat where chemicals can bioaccumulate. All are encouraged to support the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. For more information see childenvironment.org.