Toxic Chemicals and Our Children: No Place to Play Politics

BY ON June 1, 2017
Ultrasound scan of a twelve week old fetus.

Ultrasound scan of a twelve week old fetus.


It was the title of Dr. Frederica Perera’s New York Times op-ed, “The Womb Is No Protection From Toxic Chemicals” that initially caught my attention. Then, the illustration of a “little adult” encircled by dangerous looking strikes squarely aimed to penetrate a sketchy line protecting him from the outside world, broke my heart.

This is a must read for all of us who care deeply about children’s health, not just because it outlines just how tenuous little life is by connecting the dots between pregnancy and toxic chemicals, but also because it secures a scientific link between toxic chemicals, climate change and the utmost importance of supporting the strongest federal policies that restrict poisonous power plant emissions.

Here are a few excerpts from Dr. Perera’s excellent, and timely op-ed:

Chemicals affect babies before birth.

“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 in 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.”

President Trump’s proposed budget hurts our children.

“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. He would slash money for biomedical research and programs to fight outbreaks of infectious disease. We need more spending in those areas, not less. We need more testing of chemicals before they are marketed, not less.”

We need help now.

“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.”

To protect our children, E.P.A. must be able to do its job.

“This is why it was particularly distressing that the new head of the E.P.A., Scott Pruitt, recently rejected the scientific conclusion of the agency’s own experts, who had recommended banning one of the nation’s most widely used insecticides, chlorpyrifos. The experts made their judgment on the basis of many years of research indicating that chlorpyrifos was linked to significant harm to children, including diminished cognitive ability.”

Curbing fossil fuels is key.

“Research has also conclusively shown that climate change, caused in large part by carbon dioxide emitted by burning coal and other fossil fuels, is linked to more heat-related disease, malnutrition, infectious disease, trauma and mental health problems from extreme natural disasters like flooding. Those consequences can directly or indirectly affect early brain development, the cognitive and behavioral functioning of children and their ability to learn.”

Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord is wrong.

“…Mr. Trump, as of Wednesday, was considering pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord and also wants to abandon his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants.”

We can prevent this.

“With respect to climate change, federal policies and rules that promote clean energy, restrict climate-altering emissions from power plants, vehicles, industrial processes, and natural gas production and support the Paris Climate Accord are essential. They must not be weakened.”

Frederica Perera is a professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health.




TOPICS: Children's Health, Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Climate Change, EPA, Politics