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


  Children are not just little adults. Tests on adults--be they laboratory animals or humans--give few and most likely misguided insights into the health risks created by pesticide exposure for the fetus and for children, who are usually far more sensitive to contamination than adults.  

Why are children more sensitive?

  • Children are at a stage in their lives when little things can make a big, life-long difference. Adults have already passed through development. Their bodies are fully organized. Their brains have gone through the periods of most intense growth. Their reproductive systems have matured. A child is in the midst of this developmental process...a fetus even more so. The earlier in development, the wider the range paths that might be followed.

    After all, (as one example) it takes intense medical intervention... surgery and very heavy hormone treatments...to achieve even a partial sex change in an adult, and the changes are never complete. But early in embryonic development an embryo can go either way, male or female. Which road is followed depends first a minute hormonal trigger at a key moment in the development of the fetus; a signal that a begins with a chemical message from the embryo's genes. Without that message, the fetus will develop as a female. With it, it becomes a male.

    Development involves a myriad of choices. Sex is just one. Others are as basic as the number of fingers and the shapes of the limbs, or as subtle as intricate patterns in brain wiring and the subsequent impact on behavior and intelligence. Each one is governed by minute chemical signals, many of them hormonal. All those decision points are already passed in an adult; contamination can't affect them.

  • Hormonal changes obviously affect adults, too. Changes in testosterone can cause mood swings; medical doses of estrogen are used to combat osteoporosis, etc. The levels of hormones involved in these natural and artificial oscillations, however, are enormous compared to the levels that are involved in guiding development. Thus, not only are children and the fetus in the midst of a developmental miracle, making them vulnerable to events that adults no longer need to worry about, but the levels of hormones involved in development vs. those involved in affecting adults are vastly different. This means that the levels of concern for chemicals interfering with developmental processes is profoundly lower.

  • Children behave in ways that expose them to contaminants with greater frequency than adults, at least in the home. They crawl on floors, roll in the grass, stick things in their mouths, chew and suck on plastic objects.

  • The size of a child relative to that of an adult means that the same quantity of contaminant ingested by a child will be proportionally more impactful.
  These factors all add up to make children more vulnerable than adults. Unfortunately, however, most of the regulatory science that has been conducted in the United States (indeed everywhere in the world) has focused on adults. Adult animals in experiments. Adult humans in studies used to determine regulatory targets.

Encouraged by concerned scientists and pediatricians, such as Dr. Philip Landrigan at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NY, the Clinton Administration in 1997 issued an Executive Order acknowledging the special sensitivity of children, instructing each federal agency to make environmental threats to children's health a high priority and to ensure that all policies, programs, activities, and standards address disproportionate risks to children that result from environmental health risks or safety risks.

  In 1996, Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which contains important provisions specifically addressing the heightened sensitivity of children:
  • It requires an explicit determination that tolerances are safe for children.
  • It includes an additional safety factor of up to ten-fold, if necessary, to account for uncertainty in data relative to children.
  • And it requires consideration of children's special sensitivity and exposure to pesticide chemicals. [The FQPA also addresses endocrine disruptors directly, through the Endocrine Disruptors Screening and Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC)].

implementation of FQPA has lagged and decisions made by EPA in developing details of implementation are weakening the intent of the law.

And perhaps ironically, industry is using test results from experiments with adult humans in an effort to demonstrate pesticide safety and to avoid some of the new requirements established by the 1996 FQPA. Leaving aside for the moment the substantial ethical questions this practice raises, the simple fact is that tests on adults will not demonstrate safety for kids. The tests, therefore, are worthless, which makes the ethical issues that much more acute.




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