Guest blog post by Maggie MacDonald, toxics program manager at Environmental Defence.
A pregnant mother often wonders “Will my baby have my eyes? Her father’s nose?” But she probably doesn’t think too much about whether her baby will be born with her grandmother’s DDT or PCBs. Nor should she have to.
But our new report, Pre-Polluted: A Report on Toxic Substances in the Umbilical Cord Blood of Canadian Newborns, shows that even in the mothers’ womb, the developing fetus is exposed to a slew of dangerous chemicals – chemicals that might have health effects like cancer, lower IQ or thyroid problems later in life. We cannot see with the naked eye that Canadian children are born pre-polluted, but our latest results demonstrate just that.
Environmental Defence tested the umbilical cord blood of three newborn babies from the GTA and Hamilton, and found each child was born with 55 to 121 toxic compounds and possible cancer-causing chemicals in their bodies. We tested for, and found at low levels, PBDEs (flame retardants), PCBs, PFCs, Organochlorine pesticides, dioxins and furans and mercury and lead – chemicals that are pervasive and persistent in our environment. Of the 137 chemicals found in the umbilical cord blood, 132 are reported to cause cancer in humans or animals.
All Canadians have a right to live in a clean, healthy environment. If evidence that babies – who are especially vulnerable – are burdened with a toxic chemical load before they are born is not enough to signal a change must be made, we don’t know what is.
Moms: it’s not your fault. When it comes to reducing toxic pollution, government, industry, and the public all have a role to play. When scientists and government agree that a substance is toxic to human health, it must be phased out as soon as possible. Currently, chemicals like certain PBDE flame retardants can still be contained in imported furniture, despite plans for prohibitions having been announced by the federal government several years ago. Industry often takes action before bans are announced, but there are many chemicals still in products that businesses should stop using, like phthalates and PFCs (non stick coating chemicals). The public can make a difference by refusing to buy products that contain toxic “chemicals of convenience” and by letting decision makers in government and business know that it’s time for a change.
There are also things you can do at home to reduce your exposure. Simply mopping or wiping down furniture and floors to rid your home of dust can have a positive impact. Many toxic substances are persistent and can lurk in dust, even long after being banned! You can help reduce the amount of hormone-disrupting flame retardants, DDT, and PFCs in your home by wiping away the dust bunnies.
Environmental Defence is asking the federal government to move towards improving chemical regulation in Canada, to protect the health of all Canadians. We’re asking companies to proactively remove toxic chemicals from their products ahead of government plans to phase them out.
All Canadians live downstream of the history of our industrial society. Let’s make sure that stream is clean, for our children and future generations.
The people of Environmental Defence have teamed up with Leaves of Trees to host this giveaway. One of my readers will will a gift bag form Leaves of Trees.