Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

  Polluting our future. Chemical pollution in the U.S. that affects child development and learning. A report prepared by the National Environmental Trust, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Learning Disabilities Association of America . September 2000. Report available on-line and for .PDF download at www.safekidsinfo.org
 
 

Using data from the Toxic Release Inventory, NET, PSR and LDA report that total releases of developmental toxins in the US are at least 24 billion pounds annually. These developmental toxins have the potential to affect the way a child's body and brain develop, especially in the womb. This is the first comprehensive effort to summarize releases of this nature.

The TRI data accumulated from industry document releases of 1.2 billion pounds of compounds known or suspected to be developmental toxins. Because TRI data cover only, roughly, 5% of industrial releases, this report estimates the total release of developmental toxins may be as much as 24 million pounds. Given that so few of the thousands of chemicals in modern use have been tested for developmental toxicity, particularly developmental neurotoxicity, this overall estimate is likely to be low.

Among the reports findings:

  • Some 17% of all US children suffer from one or more developmental, learning or behavioral disabilities. While there is significant uncertainty about the causes of these, the US National Academy of Sciences estimates that 3% are due to known toxic substances and another 25% are due to the interactions between environmental factors and genetic predispositions.
  • A number of health and behavioral problems are increasing among American children whose cause may include developmental errors caused by contamination. These include increases in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; a doubling of the rate of autism over 30 years; a 6% increase over 8 years in very low birthweight babies; a 4.5% increase over 8 years in premature babies; a doubling over 8 years of atrial septal defect (a hole in the wall between the chambers of the heart); a 50% increase in obstructive genito-urinary defects.
  • Louisiana and Texas lead the nation in releases to the environment of developmental toxins.
  • African-Americans are exposed disproportionately to the risks of developmental toxins because of the congruence of plants emitting these compounds and the locations of African-American communities.

Recommendations:

Pre-market screening of new chemicals. New chemicals should be tested and found to have no effect or potential effect on the physical or brain development of children before they are allowed into commerce. The existing law does not require testing for developmental and neurological effects.

Mandatory testing of existing chemicals. Chemicals produced in high volumes, to which children and childbearing adults are routinely exposed, should be thoroughly tested for safety. The chemical industry has vigorously resisted an initiative that would have them voluntarily test such chemicals.

Labeling at the point of exposure. For substances currently in commerce that may potentially have developmental or neurological effects, all users and manufacturers should be required to post warning labels on products and near facilities emitting these substances. As demonstrated in California under Proposition 65, the requirement ot inform consumers of hazardous exposures has a double benefit. It empowers consumers to protect themselves while at the same time encouraging manufacturers to find safer substitutes.

Better pollution reporting. Millions of pounds of releases into the environment of developmental and neurological toxins are never reported to federal or state Toxic Release Inventories (TRIs) because they are manufactured or used at levels that are less than current reporting thresholds. As a result, companies have no incentive to reduce pollution of these chemicals as they have for hundreds of other chemicals they do report to state and federal TRIs. If reporting thresholds for developmental and neurological toxins were lowered, more information would become available to the public, and releases of these substances would likely be reduced over time.

Regulating electric power plants for air pollution. The electric power industry is the nation's largest source of industrial air pollution that is not regulated for toxic chemical emissions. EPA should treat the electric power industry like other major industries and require it to adhere to specific limits on toxic air pollution--including developmental and neurological toxins such as mercury, toluene, benzene, hydrogen flouride, and nickel.

Exposure and disease monitoring. To allow public health officials and environmental regulators to assess the real effects of toxic chemicals on U.S. children, a program should be implemented to: (1) monitor developmental and neurological toxins in the bodies of representative samplings of children and women, and (2) record the incidence of developmental and neurological disabilities in the general population.

 

 

 

 

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