threat explored in this book may seem overwhelming, especially to
those confronting it for the first time. Feelings of fright and
helplessness are, in our experience, not unusual. This is indeed
a frightening problem. No one should underestimate its seriousness,
even though the magnitude of this threat to human health and well-being
is as yet unclear. It would likewise be dangerous to retreat into
denial, which can be a strong temptation in the face of large, insidious
problems that leave individuals feeling helpless and hopeless.
But however grim and unsettling the facts appear in this instance,
facts are not fate. Trends are not destiny. Three decades ago, Rachel
Carson's predictions about the impacts of synthetic pesticides led
to major changes in their use and thus prevented much of the apocalyptic
"silent spring" she envisioned. Today, the growing scientific
knowledge about endocrine-disrupting chemicals gives us similar
power to avert the hazards outlined in previous chapters. This should
be reason for hope rather than despair.
however, solutions to this problem will be neither quick nor easy.
Much of the concern about hormonally active synthetic chemicals
arises from the persistence that many of them have in the environment.
Many don't readily degrade into benign components. A generation
after industrial countries stopped the production of the most notorious
of these persistent chemicals, their legacy endures in food and
in human and animal bodies. Some will be in the environment for
decades, and in a few cases even centuries. At the same time, other
hormonally active chemicals remain in production and unexpected
new sources of exposure continue to come to light. Most disturbing
of all, many of us already carry contamination levels that may put
us and our children at risk.
ourselves from this hazard requires action on several fronts aimed
at eliminating new sources of hormone disruption and minimizing
exposure to hormonally active contaminants already abroad in the
environment. This will entail scientific research; redesign of chemicals,
manufacturing processes, and products by companies; new government
policies; and efforts by individuals to protect themselves and their
families. Tragically, there is no way to repair the damage done
to individuals who now suffer impairments stemming from chemically
caused disruption during their early development. Such damage cannot
be undone. But with diligent work by goverment bodies, scientists,
corporations, and individuals, we can reduce the threat to the next
generation. Over time, the ill effects now evident in wildlife and
humans could diminish and gradually disappear.
is the good news in this troubling picture. Although hormone-disrupting
chemicals can cause grievous, permanent damage to those exposed
in the womb, they do not attack genes or cause mutations that persist
across generations. They have not altered the basic genetic blueprint
that underlies our humanity. Remove the disruptors from the mother
and the womb, and the chemical messages that guide development can
once again arrive unimpeded.
to now, women have generally assumed that they could help ensure
the health of their children by being vigilant during pregnancy
about what they eat and drink and about exposure to X rays, pesticides,
and other toxic chemicals. Such short-term prudence will certainly
protect the unborn child from many kinds of permanent damage, including
the devastating neurological effects of alcohol. But protecting
the next generation from hormone disruption will require a much
longer vigilance-over years and decades-because the dose reaching
the womb depends not only on what the mother takes in during pregnancy
but also on the persistent contaminants accumulated in body fat
throughout her lifetime. As discussed earlier, women tranfer this
chemical store built up over decades to their children during gestation
and during breast-feeding.
Thus, it is critical that we as individuals and as a society make
choices that reduce this chemical legacy that is being passed from
one generation to the next. In the interest of the coming generation
and those that follow, we must limit what children are exposed to
as they grow up and keep the toxic burden that women accumulate
in their lifetimes prior to pregnancy as low as possible. Children
have a right to be born chemical-free.