On October 26, 2010 the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health Field held a Hearing entitled, “Toxic Chemicals and Children’s Environmental Health.” Under the leadership of Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey, this hearing was scheduled to discuss the environmental health effects from children’s exposure to common chemicals in our environment and serve to initiate legislative reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.
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The Senate Meets to Examine Risks of Toxic Chemicals to Children’s Health
On October 26, 2010 the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health Field held a Hearing entitled, “Toxic Chemicals and Children’s Environmental Health.” Under the leadership of Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey, this hearing was scheduled to discuss the environmental health effects from children’s exposure to common chemicals in our environment and serve to initiate legislative reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. Although this act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jurisdiction over chemicals produced and utilized in the U.S., TSCA does not have a mandatory program in place whereby EPA reviews and determines the safety of existing chemicals. Compounding the problem, all chemicals in commerce at the time of the TSCA enactment were grandfathered in without evaluation. And, according to the Honorable Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator, who addressed the hearing, with over 84,000 chemicals currently in the TSCA inventory, very few have been studied for their risks to children. Under new legislation, introduced by Lautenberg, chemical manufacturers must reveal their safety data and prove the safety of their products prior to being released into the market.
Sanjay Gupta, MD, Chief Medical Correspondent Cable News Network (CNN), also testified relaying his field experience gained through his work on CNNs special documentary entitled “Toxic America”, aired last June. Dr. Gupta said from his research he learned that our mindset is different from the European Union. Here, chemicals are “innocent until proven guilty,” through health effects, which unfortunately can happen years later making us in a sense all guinea pigs. The European Union on the other hand, under REACH, takes a more precautionary stance. REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals; a European law on chemicals and their safe use. Dr. Gupta expressed sentiments urging Congress to move forward on this issue and learn from our European neighbors.
With the rise in childhood diseases such as leukemia, brain tumors, asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, autism and obesity, concerned mothers, fathers, and astute consumers want assurance about the long term safety of the roughly 84,000 chemicals in commerce today. As echoed by many of the speakers, children and the developing fetus are especially vulnerable to environmental toxicants. First, pound for pound, children consume more food, water and air than adults taking in more of any toxic chemicals present in these sources. Second, children and infants live closer to the ground where the dust resides. Dust is a reservoir of toxicants that have leached from household products including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) or flame retardants from computer screens, television sets, furniture, carpeting, and mattress; phthalates from curtains, flooring, wallpaper, detergents and soaps; bisphenol A (BPA) from plastic containers, bottles, pizza boxes and grocery receipts. Dust may also contain pesticide and herbicide residues, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from coal tar sealant tracked in from outdoors. Third, children are biologically more vulnerable. Their nervous, immune and reproductive systems, lungs and other organs are under construction. This growth and development is fragile. If perturbed by a toxicant, the damage in many cases is irreparable and results in lifelong impairment. The growing embryo, fetus and newborn in particular, are exquisitely vulnerable to the tiniest single exposure of a toxicant. During critical phases of organ development this can permanently impair the health and well-being of the future child.
Lisa Huguenin, PhD, New Jersey mother of child with autism and an immune system disorder, testified how her son, Harrison, at 18 months of age, had started to decline in vocabulary and motor skills and was eventually diagnosed with autism by age two with a host of other health problems including asthma, non IgE-mediated food allergy and autoimmune issues. Dr. Huguenin holds her PhD in Environmental Science and Human Exposure Assessment. As a scientist in the field and mother of a developmentally and health challenged child, she wonders and worries of the long term effects of childhood toxic exposures of herself, her husband and even her parents, and its possible implications generations later through Harrison.
Frederica Perera, MPH, DrPH, Director of the Columbia University Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) expanded on the implications of toxics on neurodevelopmental disorders in her testimony. As much as 17% of children in the U.S. are diagnosed with a learning or attention disorder. Research studies consistently attribute one etiology to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs); compounds capable of interfering with hormone production and activity. Complications from exposure to EDCs include adverse developmental, neurological, reproductive and immune effects. Dr. Perera’s international studies of twelve years involved cohorts of mothers and children followed from pregnancy. The goals were to identify and measure pollutants and chemicals entering the womb during pregnancy and assess their impact on the children’s development and health as they grew older. From two New York City cohorts, Dr. Perera highlighted four chemicals found across a wide range of concentrations in air and urine samples of these pregnant women, cord blood samples from their newborns, and young children. The toxicants identified are: phthalates, BPA, PBDFEs, and the organophosphate insecticide, Chlorpyrifos. These compounds are ubiquitous in the environment and dangerous to the growing fetus and child; from shortened gestational age, delayed and impaired psychomotor and mental development, attention deficit and hyperactivity problems, to lower IQ scores in children. The research at CCCEH is ongoing but their findings thus far strongly support the link between fetal and child toxicant exposure and adverse neurodevelopmental effects. Similar results are being found with cohorts of pregnant women in Poland and China.
Phthalates are one of the world’s top production chemicals with over 18 billion pounds utilized per year. According to the CDC Fourth National Exposure Report, there are multiple phthalate metabolites present in our urine from widespread environmental exposures. The phthalate metabolite, mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP), has been found at one of the highest levels in the U.S. population and in pregnant populations both in the Netherlands and in Washington State (Center for Disease Control & Prevention 2010, Ye et al., 2008., Schreder, 2009). MEP is the metabolite of di-ethyl phthalate (DEP). As mentioned, phthalates are an endocrine disruptor. They can affect our hormone or endocrine system and cause reproductive damage, birth defects or certain kinds of cancers. DEP is found in cosmetics, personal body care products and fragrances including household cleaners. Often, the ingredients not listed on the label of a household cleaner (e.g.: soaps and detergents), make up over 90% of the bottle contents including fragrance.
The youngest including the developing baby is our most vulnerable population to toxicants in the environment. As Congress moves forward on this very important issue for a preventive chemical policy, sound laboratory testing remains an essential clinical tool at the hands of the primary doctor for judicious patient screening.
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. (2010) Hearing: Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health Field Hearing entitled, “Toxic Chemicals and Children’s Environmental Health.” Available from: http://epw.senate.gov/public/
Ye, X., Pierik, F., Hauser, R., et al. (2008). Urinary metabolite concentrations of organophosphorous pesticides, bisphenol A, and phthalates among pregnant women in Rotterdam, the Netherlands: The Generation R Study. Environmental Research, (108)2:260-267. Schreder, E. (2009). Earliest Exposures A Research Project by Washington Toxics Coalition. Available from: http://watoxics.org/publications/earliest-exposures
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/