All I want for Mothers Day is a healthy child
“So it turns out she’s deathly allergic to strawberries!” My neighbor Irina had a slightly dubious tone in her voice as she recounted the latest news of her grandchildren. “Strawberries! We just didn’t have all these allergies when I was raising kids.” Irina is a retired teacher, a mom of three and grandmother of five. She is a compassionate woman, who pretty much loves kids unconditionally, but, like many people, somewhere in the back of her mind she is wondering why her granddaughter’s generation seems to have so very many allergies, intolerances, disabilities, and diseases.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology reports that in the last decade, the number of people diagnosed with asthma increased by 4.3 million. During roughly the same time frame, the prevalence of food allergies in children under the age of eighteen increased by 18 percent. Not only has the incidence of type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes) increased dramatically over the last 30 odd years, but onset is occurring at ever younger ages, and more individuals considered to have low or moderate genetic risk are developing the disease. In a report released March 30, 2012, U.S. Centers for Disease Control researchers concluded that autism rates are climbing dramatically. Learning and developmental disabilities are increasing, and so is the incidence of boys with malformed genitals and girls who begin puberty at age 8 or 9. Leukemia has increased by more than 20 percent since 1975.
Complex relationships between genetic and environmental factors contribute to asthma, diabetes, developmental disabilities, allergies and so on. In some cases the link between a toxin or pollutant and a health risk is clear; in others the science is still hazy. In all these cases, however, there is solid evidence to suggest that pollutants and toxic chemicals play a role in the increase in numbers we are seeing today. Under current laws, the burden is on the Environmental Protection Agency to prove that any specific chemical poses an “unreasonable risk” to our health before it can be regulated. The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, also protects the chemical industry from having to release the identities and ingredients of its products to consumers, scientists, or public regulators. Effectively, the EPA does not have the teeth to protect us and we cannot get enough information to protect ourselves.
Meanwhile, it is the week before Mother’s Day, 2012. On March 30 of this year, the FDA rejected a call to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from food packaging. Congress is hard at work, trying to roll back the EPA’s new Mercury and Toxic Air Standards, which would reduce toxic mercury emissions from power plants by 90 percent. Even as the Safe Chemical Act, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg makes its way to a probable summer vote in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, the chemical industry, led by companies like Dow Chemicals, is mounting an intensive campaign against it.
I gave birth to my daughter almost exactly seven years ago. I remember being pregnant. I left my first appointment with the midwife with a long list of items that represent a serious danger to a developing fetus. No alcohol, no tobacco. Reduce caffeine significantly. Avoid second hand smoke. Have your husband change the kitty litter. Swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel are high in mercury, and albacore tuna is probably not a good idea either. No sushi, no rare burgers, no soft cheeses. No unpasteurized juice. Put off any medical procedure or dentistry that can safely be delayed until after the birth. Everyday over-the-counter medications like aspirin and ibuprofen are dangerous at certain points in the pregnancy. Multivitamins may contain too much Vitamin A, and we are told to only take those vitamins recommended by our doctors. Some medicines are known to cause fetal abnormalities.
My list of warnings also included quite a number of substances which MAY harm a fetus.
Since, laudably enough, we don’t test potential toxins on pregnant women, researchers often do not have enough information to determine the level of risk involved in certain medications. For these drugs, caution is the watchword: we are urged to consult with medical professionals, and take them only when the known benefit outweighs the potential risk. As for herbal supplements and natural remedies, the FDA considers that, “[n]o one is sure if these are safe for pregnant women, so it's best not to use them. Even some ‘natural’ products may not be good for women who are pregnant or nursing.” I want to underline the implications of that statement: Pregnant women are asked to stay away from herbal remedies precisely because we lack scientific data on how those remedies might impact a developing fetus.
So, no peppermint tea for you, moms-to-be, because we just don’t know enough about it. Have a headache? Check with your doctor before you grab that Tylenol bottle. There’s an outside chance that it might hurt your baby. Worried that the flame retardant chemical TDCP, banned from infant sleepware as a probable carcinogen, is still being used to make your toddler’s stroller? Concerned about BPA in infant formula? Trying to find out if there is asbestos in the paving materials of your child’s schoolyard? Oh, you can be exposed to those. After all the science is inconclusive; not enough studies have been done; traces of the chemical are shown to be OK in adults.
If you, like me, support healthy communities free of toxic chemicals, dial up our national partners and sign up with http://www.saferchemicals.org.
Anna is the Nevada Conservation League's new Development Coordinator and has lived in Las Vegas since 2008. She grew up in Vancouver, Canada and came to Las Vegas on a circuitous route that included stops in Toronto, Providence and San Diego. She has a BA from the University of Toronto and received her Masters degree from Brown University. Her professional experience includes college advising, teaching at all levels, and workshop facilitation. She has been involved with non-profits in many capacities, including communications and development. Anna is passionate about building and maintaining communities, especially as they relate to conservation.