Table Test

children_and_pollutionBy Deirdre Imus, 1-16-2018
The first few days of a new year are, for many of us, a return to reality after a bit of a hiatus. With so much fanfare during the holiday season, it can be easy to forget about somewhat less appealing realities regarding our children’s health.  

According to a new Impact Report from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), children in the U.S. are at high risk for chronic diseases that may be the result of increasing exposures to environmental toxins. For instance, the report notes:


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Other concerning childhood health trends that are on the rise and related to toxic exposures include:

  • 1 in 5 school-aged kids (ages 6-19) is obese
  • More than 7 million children suffer from respiratory allergies; more than 4 million live with food allergies, some of which can be life-threatening; and nearly 9 million kids have skin allergies
  • Rates of new diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are going up among youth in the U.S., by nearly 2 and 5 percent respectively, which increases the risk of developing diabetes-related complications at a younger age
  • Around 470,000 children live with epilepsy, a central nervous system disorder that can cause different kinds of seizures

 

As we resolve to eat better, exercise more, or quit smoking this year, let’s also promise our kids we’ll protect them from all environmental threats to their well-being – now, and for years to come. Rather than look back on what cannot be changed, I encourage you to look ahead and take heed of these pressing threats to our children’s health in 2018. When we know where hazards lie we can more easily avoid them, and help ensure the health of future generations – against all odds.

 

1. Heavy Metals: Some of the most notorious perpetrators of poor health are heavy metals such as aluminum, lead, mercury, nickel, cadmium, and arsenic. Though these substances are found naturally in the earth, they also accumulate as a result of human activity and pollution and have been linked to cancers, heart disease, kidney problems, behavioral disorders in kids, bone disease, and neurological impairments. Most often, we are exposed to heavy metals in the following ways:

Aluminum

  • Occurs naturally in soil, water and air
  • Used to make beverage cans, pots and pans, airplanes, siding and roofing, and foil
  • Found in antacids, aspirin, antiperspirants, cosmetics
  • Added during the processing of flour, baking soda, coloring agents, cheese, and as stabilizers in many processed foods
  • Included as an adjuvant in many vaccines.  A current list of vaccines containing aluminum is available here.
  • Included in the vitamin K shot given to babies at birth

 

Lead

  • Can be present in ceramics, pipes, batteries, cosmetics, toys and jewelry, as well as paint in older homes and buildings built before 1978
  • Is often found in household dust and drinking water

Mercury

  • Found in nearly all fish and shellfish but most prevalent in shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and canned and fresh tuna
  • Sometimes used to make fever thermometers, jewelry, and dental fillings (“silver” or “amalgam” filings are approximately 50% mercury by weight)
  • Added to some vaccines as a preservative

Cadmium

  • Through cigarette smoking or secondhand smoke exposure
  • Found in foods like shellfish, liver, kidney meats, grain cereals, and some leafy greens
  • Can pollute water and air near industrial facilities
  • Used to make some jewelry, ceramics and enameled crafts
  • Can be produced by the processes involved in glassblowing, gas welding and cutting, and textile printing and dyeing

Arsenic

  • Naturally present in drinking water
  • Found in some fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, dairy products, cereals, and tobacco products
  • Used as a preservative to make wood resistant to decay (read more here), as well as in pesticides, animal feed, and car batteries
  • Bisphenol-A (and substitutes, such as BPS and BPF): found in plastics, food packaging, and the lining of many food and beverage containers; dental sealants and thermal paper receipts  from stores and ATMs;  capable of leaching into food/beverage, and can be released into the environment during manufacture, transport, or processing. Be aware that polycarbonate plastic products (clear, hard plastic) labeled “BPA-free” often contain substitute chemicals that may also be harmful.  For more information on BPA’s, BPS and BPF's, see our latest research study here.

2. Glyphosate: As the manufacturer of RoundUp, Monsanto proudly boasts on its website, glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. This means is it literally everywhere, and permeates the soil, water, and air that surround the crops on which it is sprayed. Glyphosate has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the UN, and it has been linked to cancer, DNA damage, and developmental and reproductive problems in both animal and human studies. One of the easiest ways to avoid glyphosate exposure is by avoiding foods and products – such as the pesticide RoundUp and also personal care products – that are genetically modified, or contain genetically modified ingredients. This can be hard to do, so your best bet is to look specifically for the “Non-GMO Project” seal, which offers third-party verification for non-GMO food and products. Also, eating organically grown fruits and vegetables is another way to try to avoid glyphosate.

 

3. Endocrine disruptors: These chemicals interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production and regulation. They mimic these hormones, such as estrogen and androgen, which can cause adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Endocrine disruptors are both naturally occurring and manmade, and can be found in various forms, such as this thorough list from Precision Nutrition:

  • PCBs: a byproduct of combustion, these chemicals have been banned since the 1980s but linger in the environment and the food chain
  • Flame retardants: found in furniture, plastics, paint, electronics and food such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs – and breast milk (but breastfeeding is still best!)
  • Dioxins: most often found in meat, but eating more fruits and vegetables could offer protection from this endocrine disrupting agent
  • Pesticides: Found in food, water, soil, and air
  • Perflourinated chemicals: used to make food packaging, and in the non-stick coating of cookware
  • Phthalates: in food packaging, plastics, cosmetics, cleaning agents – basically anything with “fragrance”
  • Bisphenol-A (and substitutes, such as BPS and BPF): found in plastics, food packaging, and the lining of many food and beverage containers; dental sealants and thermal paper receipts  from stores and ATMs;  capable of leaching into food/beverage, and can be released into the environment during manufacture, transport, or processing. Be aware that polycarbonate plastic products (clear, hard plastic) labeled “BPA-free” often contain substitute chemicals that may also be harmful.  For more information on BPA’s, BPS and BPF's, see our latest research studyhere.
  • UV Filters: in sunscreens and cosmetics
  • Triclosan: prevalent in personal care products and anti-microbial products, such as soap and hand sanitizers
  • Perchlorate: found in some drinking water and fireworks
  • Parabens: used in a wide range of personal care products such as shampoos, moisturizers, shaving cream, deodorant, makeup, and many others
  • BHA & BHT: these preservatives are commonly found in foods and gum
  • Phytoestrogens: found primarily in soy and soy-based foods

 

4. Pesticides/Instecticides and Fungicides: These chemicals pose known and dangerous health risks to people big and small. In kids, pesticides/insecticides have been linked to ADHD, lower IQ, and developmental disorders. One in particular, called chlorpyrifos, which is used primarily on cotton, has been shown to damage the brains of developing children – and is still legal. Fungicides have also been linked to neurological harm. Avoid these toxins by carefully selecting produce, avoiding areas where such chemicals are being sprayed, cultivating your own garden naturally and organically, and practicing integrated pest management (IPM) in your home. Carcinogenic agents are rarely the best – or most effective – way to eliminate a pest. Check out the EPA’s website for more information on IPM.

 

This information might seem overwhelming, but there is little about parenting that is simple or straightforward. Like holding their hand as they cross the street or having difficult conversations about drugs and sex, it is just as crucial that you do what you can to protect your children from environmental dangers too. And as they get older, they’ll adopt the same healthy habits you’ve shown them all their lives – avoid GMOs, read labels carefully, buy organic produce – and the torch of responsible living gets passed down like any other family tradition.  

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