Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

EWG Research

Children and the health risks of chemical exposures

Minority Cord Blood ReportEWG research has laid the foundation for reform of the nation’s chemical policies. Our pioneering testing for pollution in people has identified up to 493 chemicals in Americans of all ages, including 287 industrial chemical pollutants found in the cord blood of 10 babies born in 2004. Our assessments of health risks to infants and children have led to phase-outs of several highly problematic chemicals, including the Teflon chemical PFOA, the flame retardant compounds penta, octa and deca BDE and arsenic-based pesticides used to preserve so-called “pressure treated” lumber.

But winning battles one chemical at a time is not enough. Everyone is polluted with hundreds of industrial chemicals, yet health officials and chemical companies have little or no understanding of the consequences. The nation’s toxic chemical regulatory law, The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, allows chemicals on the market without meaningful safety assessments and gives the Environmental Protection Agency almost no authority to protect the public health Legislation to overhaul this law is now moving through both Houses of Congress

Some of EWG’s most important research is highlighted below. Click here for a complete index of EWG’s research on children’s health and exposures.


Industrial pollution begins in the womb

Body BurdenIn a landmark study conducted in 2006, EWG found up to 287 industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in 10 newborn babies, measured in umbilical cord blood collected at the moment of birth. The contaminants included 133 carcinogens, 157 chemicals that can harm the brain and nervous system and 151 chemicals linked to birth defects. Toxic chemicals policy reforms now before Congress would require that companies test chemicals and prove they are safe for children, including the fetus, before they go on the market. This study of pollution in newborns shows that its passage could not come a day too soon.


Fire retardants in breast milk

Fire Retardants in MilkA baby’s first food is packed with nutrients, fats and proteins needed for a rapidly growing brain and body. But breast milk can also harbor industrial pollutants. Our tests found fire retardants called PBDEs in the breast milk of 20 first-time mothers who volunteered for our study, at average levels 75 times higher than contamination detected in the breast milk of European women. These fire retardants can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones critical to the proper growth and development of the brain, nervous system and many other organs and systems. Breast milk is still near universally considered better than formula for infant nutrition. But that breast milk should be free of toxic industrial chemicals. Link: Fire retardants in breast milk. What you can do to reduce exposures.


Toxic plastics in infant formula and baby bottles

Baby BottleEWG began investigating the toxic plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in 2006. Our analysis of BPA contamination of canned food and infant formula and documentation of BPA use by every major infant formula manufacturer led to congressional inquiries. Today, scientists at the federal Food and Drug Administration are using EWG data to investigate BPA contamination in the food supply, with an eye to restricting the substance’s use in food cans and other packaging Meanwhile, major baby bottle makers have volunteered to stop using BPA in their bottles. Five states, three counties in New York and the city of Chicago have banned BPA in baby bottles and toddler cups. Parents wondering how to safety feed a newborn should read EWG’s guide to baby-safe bottles and formula.


Rocket fuel in tap water and food

Rocket Fuel in Food and WaterThe same chemical, perchlorate, that the Defense Department uses to propel missiles and rockets fouls tap water supplies in at least 28 states, contaminates lettuce and other foods irrigated with tainted water and pollutes the bodies of every American tested by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under pressure from defense industry lobbyists, the EPA has so far failed to set a safety standard for tap water. Perchlorate disrupts the production of thyroid hormones essential to normal brain development. High exposures are particularly dangerous to the fetus, infant and young child. The chemical is one of several potent thyroid toxins found in common consumer products. Others are fire retardants and antimicrobial chemicals in personal care products. Do children face cumulative risks from chronic exposures to these thyroid-damaging pollutants? Almost certainly, but under current law the government is not required to set safety standards to reflect the real-world impact of multiple pollutants. For more on rocket fuel in children, see EWG’s research.


Children’s bath and skin care products loaded with risky chemicals

Infant BathParents might be surprised to know that companies are free to use almost any ingredient in children’s personal care products. Some “natural” products contain artificial preservatives. Some wares marketed as “gentle” contain harsh skin irritants. Tests of children’s blood turn up hand soap ingredients, musk fragrances and plastics chemicals. Potential risks range from hormone disruption to reproductive system damage and allergic reactions and add to risks from contaminants in food, air, water and other consumer products. EWG analyzed personal care products used by 3,200 children to find the best ones. Click here for Parent’s guide to safer products.


Sunscreen: Does it work and is it safe?

Infant Bath EWG’s fourth annual Sunscreen Guide, released May 25, recommended just 39 — 8 percent– of 500 beach and sports sunscreens marketed for the 2010 summer season. EWG’s analysis identified troubling new trends in the sunscreen market:

  • Exaggerated SPF claims — SPFs above 50 — surged. Products with high SPF ratings sell a false sense of security because they encourage people to stay out in the sun too long, where UVB rays burn them anyway and where their skin is bombarded with UVA radiation, which doesn’t burn but causes skin damage and possibly cancer.
  • New research data developed by the federal Food and Drug Administration suggest that a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, found in 41 percent of sunscreens, may be photocarcinogenic, meaning that in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer. Though the evidence against vitamin A is not conclusive, EWG recommended that consumers choose vitamin A-free sunscreens.
  • About 60 percent of the beach and sport sunscreens contained oxybenzone, a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates the skin and enters the body. Biomonitoring surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected oxybenzone in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans tested.


Pesticides in fruits and vegetables

Food NewsSince 1993 EWG has conducted cutting-edge research on children’s exposures to pesticides. Examples? In 1995 our tests found pesticides in name-brand baby food and spurred manufacturers to clean up their products. In 1998, our research showed that 90 percent of children were exposed daily to 13 different neurotoxic pesticides. EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides gives parents up-to-date advice on reducing children’s exposures to pesticides, with data on the “clean 15” fruits and vegetables lowest in pesticides, and the “dirty dozen” conventional produce highest in pesticides. See Shopper’s Guide.


What’s in your tap water?

Tap WaterThe average 2-year-old drinks more than twice as much water as an adult, pound for pound. That makes his risks from tap water pollutants roughly double that of his mom’s. Infants who drink formula mixed with tap water face even greater hazards, since their rapidly-changing bodies are sensitive to chemical damage and their exposures are even higher than those of toddlers. EWG has compiled a one-of-a-kind tap water quality atlas that in 2009 found 316 pollutants in tap water supplied to 256 million Americans in 48,000 communities in 45 states. What’s in your water? You can look up your town in our tap water atlas and also find tips on filtering your water at home.