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Our Chemical Environment

Until a few decades ago, the popular but falsely reassuring belief was that babies in the womb were perfectly protected by the placenta and that children were just “little adults,” requiring no special protections from environmental threats. We now know that a host of chemicals, pollutants and viruses readily travel across the placenta from mother to fetus, pre-polluting or pre-infecting a baby even before birth.

Toxic chemicals like lead, certain air pollutants, pesticides, synthetic chemicals and infectious agents like Zika can derail the intricate molecular processes involved in a fetus’s healthy brain development. So can physical and social stress experienced by the mother.

At a time when we should be spending more on research and prevention of those threats, President Trump would do the opposite. He would cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, including cuts to scientific work on chemical safety. ...
Toxic exposures are shockingly prevalent. Analysis of biomonitoring data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds dozens of toxic chemicals, pollutants and metals in pregnant women, many of which are also found in cord blood of newborns. These include pesticides sprayed in inner-city buildings and on crops, flame retardants used in furniture, combustion-related air pollutants from fossil-fuel-burning power plants and vehicles, lead, mercury and plasticizers. All have been shown in epidemiologic studies in the United States and elsewhere to be capable of damaging developing brains, especially while babies are exposed in utero or in their early life.
- FREDERICA PERERA, The Womb Is No Protection From Toxic Chemicals, NYT, JUNE 1, 2017


Our bodies are full of poisons from products we use every day. ...
Almost a decade ago, I was shaken by my reporting on a class of toxic chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are linked to cancer and obesity and also seemed to feminize males, so that male alligators developed stunted genitalia and male smallmouth bass produced eggs.

In humans, endocrine disruptors were linked to two-headed sperm and declining sperm counts. They also were blamed for an increase in undescended testicles and in a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis rather than the tip. ...
I had high levels of a BPA substitute called BPF. Ruthann Rudel, a toxicologist who is the head of research at Silent Spring, explained that companies were switching to BPF even though it may actually be yet more harmful (it takes longer for the body to break it down). ...

“These types of regrettable substitutions — when companies remove a chemical that has a widely known bad reputation and substitute a little-known bad actor in its place — are all too common,” Rudel told me. ...
The chemical companies spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying and have gotten the lightest regulation that money can buy.
- NICHOLAS KRISTOF, What Poisons Are in Your Body?, NYT, FEB. 23, 2018


“The idea that food might become less nutritious was a surprise, it’s not intuitive,” said Dr. Myers. “But I think we should continue to expect surprises. We are completely altering the biophysical conditions that underpin our food system, and we still have very little understanding of how those disruptions will ripple through ecosystems and affect human health.”
- Brad Plumer, How More Carbon Dioxide Can Make Food Less Nutritious, NYT, May 23, 2018


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