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“Nosotros No Tenemos Armas Para Echar A Pique Sus Fuerzas Navales,
Pero Tenemos el Arma de Echar a Pique Su Prestigio en El Mundo.” Albizu 1930

HomeAbout NBHRNViequesRisking the Lives of the Unborn

Risking the Lives of the Unborn
December 3, 2009
Carl Pope
Executive Director of the Sierra Club
Posted: December 3, 2009

For the last eight years, federal agencies charged with protecting our health were systematically discouraged or even prevented from doing their jobs. During that period, for example, the Sierra Club had to force federal agencies to act to clean up the scandalously lethal “toxic trailers” used to house Katrina victims, as well as to begin curbing the flood of toys contaminated by lead and other toxic heavy metals. California had to take the lead in curbing the exposure of children to Bisphenol-A (BPA); the federal advisory bodies that were supposed to evaluate the safety of that chemical—found in everything from baby bottles to the Nalgene water bottles beloved of backpackers—were stacked with scientists who had conflicts of interest.

Now, as the Obama administration and the new Congress dig into the toxic mess left behind, the picture is becoming even grimmer. One of the central villains of the great toxic cover-up, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), has admitted that its earlier “clean bill of health” to the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico was unwarranted. Only months earlier, the ATSDR also conceded that it had incorrectly determined that contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, NC, posed no increased risk of cancer to adults. North Carolina Congressman Brad Miller expressed strong concerns after an investigation this spring:

It seems to have gotten into their culture to do quick and dirty studies and to be too willing to say there are no public health consequences… People should be able to count on the government to tell them the truth.

These failures have real-world consequences. In both Vieques and Camp Leujune, citizens whose health was impacted have sued the government. (Apparently, it was fear of litigation and liability that drove the ATSDR, which is an arm of the Centers for Diseases Control, to deny the obvious problem with the toxic trailers.)

Now a new study released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that infants in the United States are born with a toxic soup of industrial chemicals in their bodies. In the first such test ever specifically focused on minority populations, the EWG found more than 200 industrial chemicals, including BPA, in the umbilical chords of ten minority infants.

In addition to BPA, chemicals of concern that are passing the placental barrier from the blood of the birth mother into the developing fetus included:
…. a toxic flame retardant chemical called tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) that permeates computer circuit boards, synthetic fragrances (Galaxolide and Tonalide) used in common cosmetics and detergents, and perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA, or C4), a member of the notorious Teflon chemical family used to make non-stick and grease-, stain- and water-resistant coatings for cookware, textiles, food packaging and other consumer products.

If these children, and millions of others whose fetal development was almost certainly exposed to these and other chemicals, suffer health consequences later in life, they obviously won’t know the source of their problem, and they certainly won’t be able to sue. This is probably the largest unmonitored and uncontrolled experiment on human subjects in history—none of these chemicals has been found safe for developing fetuses. And you can be sure that the chemical industry will fight as hard as it can to continue playing this terrible Russian roulette with future generations.

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