polar bears, humans share the hazards of feeding at the top of the
food chain. The persistent synthetic chemicals that have invaded
the great bear's world pervade ours as well.
also carry PCBs and other persistent chemicals in their body fat,
and they pass this chemical legacy on to their babies. Virtually
anyone willing to put up the $2,000 for the tests will find at least
250 chemical contaminants in his or her body fat, regardless of
whether he or she lives in Gary, Indiana, or on a remote island
in the South Pacific. You cannot escape them. Ironically, some of
those living farthest from industrial centers and sources of pollution
have suffered the greatest contamination: these chemicals travel
long distances and build up along the way to high concentrations,
especially in the Arctic, which is becoming a final resting ground.
These synthetic chemicals move everywhere, even through the placental
barrier and into the womb, exposing the unborn during the most vulnerable
stages of development. When a new mother breast-feeds her baby,
she is giving it more than love and nourishment: she is passing
on high doses of persistent chemicals as well.
has been three decades since health researchers discovered that
DDT, PCBs, and other persistent chemicals were accumulating in human
body fat and breast milk, as well as in every other part of the
environment. The measurements have been the easy part. Since then,
concerned scientists have been trying to understand their meaning.
If we all carry around an alphabet soup of novel chemicals in our
body fat, how is it affecting us? How is it affecting our children?
researchers do not have all the answers to these questions, they
are convinced that humans carry high enough levels of synthetic
chemicals to endanger their children. Without knowing exactly how
all these chemicals act, separately or together, the researchers
have linked chemicals not only to damage in wildlife offspring but
in humans as well. We will explore these links in later chapters.
prenatal exposure seems to pose the greatest hazard, health specialists
also worry about the chemicals passed on in breast milk because
some sensitive developmental processes continue in the weeks immediately
after birth. During breast feeding, human infants are exposed to
higher concentrations of these chemicals than at any subsequent
time in their lives. In just six months of breast feeding, a baby
in the U.S. and Europe gets the maximum recommended lifetime dose
of dioxin, which rides through the food chain like PCBs and DDT.
The same breast feeding baby gets five times the allowable daily
level of PCBs set by international health standards for a 150-pound
contamination of breast milk has been particularly severe among
indigenous people in the high Arctic, where many people still eat
the wild food the land and sea provide. There, researchers have
found that babies take in seven times more PCBs than the typical
infant in southern Canada or the U.S. The PCBs and other chemicals
that contaminate the infants have almost all arrived by wind and