Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns

The Pollution in Newborns

July 14, 2005

Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns: Scientists' and Pediatricians' Statement

Scientists' and Pediatricians' Statement on EWG Study of Industrial Chemicals in Umbilical Cord Blood

July 8, 2005

Over the past decade, scientists and medical experts have become increasingly concerned about the adverse effects of chemicals in the environment on children. This awareness has been fueled by a growing understanding of the potential for small amounts of chemicals to produce profound changes in development when exposures occur at critical periods of development. It is further increased by concerns about the vast numbers of potentially toxic chemicals to which the developing child is exposed, both before and after birth.

A recent study by the Environmental Working Group detected 287 commercial chemicals, pesticides, and pollutants in the umbilical cord blood from 10 newborn infants, randomly selected by the Red Cross from U.S. hospitals. The finding of these chemicals in the bloodstreams of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society raises issues of substantial importance to public health and points to the need for major reforms to the nation's laws that aim to protect the public from chemical exposures.

The study confirms that even before birth, a child is exposed to hundreds of chemical compounds, many of which could harm that child's health and development. This is disturbing because scientific studies and empirical evidence have repeatedly shown that pre-natal and early childhood chemical exposures can be substantially more harmful than exposures that occur later in life.

The immature blood brain barrier may allow greater chemical exposures to the developing brain. A diminished ability to excrete and detoxify many chemicals can produce higher levels of chemicals circulating in the blood of the child than the mother. The occurrence of complex processes of cell growth and differentiation may provide the opportunity for irreversible effects to occur during critical windows of development. And the longer life span of the child compared to an adult allows more time for adverse effects to arise.

These health concerns are largely the results of gaping holes in the government safety net that allows this largely uncontrolled exposure. There are 75,000 chemicals in commerce, and at least 3,000 produced in quantities greater than 1,000,000 pounds per year. Yet we do not know how many of these chemicals end up in fetal blood and what the effects of these exposures are. Presumably, if EWG had tested for more compounds, more would have been detected, perhaps many more.

The federal law that ensures the safety of these chemicals has not been improved for nearly 30 years - longer than any other major environmental or public health statute. Because this law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is so weak, a number of voluntary initiatives to gather health information about chemicals have been attempted. These efforts, however, have been largely ineffective at reducing exposure and do not substitute for a clear statutory requirement to protect children from the toxic effects of chemical exposure.

In light of the findings in the EWG study and a substantial body of supporting science, we strongly urge that federal laws and policies be reformed to ensure that children are protected from chemical exposures, and that to the maximum extent possible exposure to industrial chemicals before birth be eliminated entirely. The nation's pesticide law, the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, was amended nearly a decade ago to require the explicit protection of infants and children from pesticides. Actions taken under FQPA have reduced or eliminated children's exposures to a number of highly hazardous pesticides, with no discernable adverse impact on the availability or price of a wholesome food supply. We recommend a similar standard be applied to commercial chemicals.

H. Vasken Aposhian, Ph.D.
Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology, University of Arizona
Member, National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury
Former Member, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee on Food Safety

Cynthia Bearer, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and Neurosciences
Director, Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital Neonatology Fellowship Training Program Committee to Evaluate Children's Health, National Academy of Sciences 
Editorial Board, Neurotoxicology and Alcohol Health & Research
Member, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scientific Advisory Board
Cleveland, OH

Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Assistant Clinical Professor, Stanford University School of Medicine
Attending Pediatrician, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University
Danville, CA

Lynn Goldman, M.D., MPH
Professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Vice Chairman, National Academies Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences
Member, National Academies Institute of Medicine, Health Sciences Board
Chair, National Academies Institute of Medicine Gulf War and Health Study
Former Assistant Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances
Former Member, Centers for Disease Control Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Committee 
Former Member, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health
Former Director, California Department of Health Services, Division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control
Baltimore, M.D.

Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc., D.I.H.
Diplomate, American Board of Pediatrics
Professor of Pediatrics, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Director, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Center for Children's Health and the Environment
Director, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Division of Environmental and Occupational Medicine
Professor & Chair, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Community & Preventive Medicine
Former Senior Advisor to Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Former Chair, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children
Former Chair, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Environmental Neurotoxicology
New York, NY

Bruce Lanphear, M.D., MPH
Director, Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health Center
Professor of Pediatrics and Environmental Health, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
Member, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Children's Environmental Health Protection, Science and Research Work Group
Cincinnati, OH

Herbert Needleman, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Member, National Academies Institute of Medicine
Author of over 70 papers on lead and children's health
The Charles Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Public Health
American Public Health Association Edward K. Barsky Award
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor's Award for Public Service
Pittsburgh, PA

David Ozonoff, M.D., MPH
Professor of Environmental Health
Boston University School of Public Health
Boston, MA

J. Routt Reigart, M.D.
Director and Professor, Division of General Pediatrics, Medical University of South Carolina
Member, The National Children's Study Federal Advisory Committee
Former Chair, Centers for Disease Control Childhood Lead Poisoning Advisory Committee
Former Chair, Centers for Disease and Prevention Control Childhood Lead Poisoning Advisory Committee
Former Chair, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee
Former Member, President George H.W. Bush's Council on Environmental Quality Task Force on Lead Poisoning Education
Charleston, SC

Howard M. Snyder III, M.D.
Senior Attending Urologist at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia
Associate Director, Pediatric Urology, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Professor of Surgery in Urology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Philadelphia, PA