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January 28, 2008

"10 Americans": Presentation by EWG (Part 1)


Just as every American adult should be required to watch the film, An Inconvenient Truth, likewise every American adult should be required to see "10 Americans". "10 Americans" is the title of a presentation that I saw last Wednesday at the Harvard Club given by Ken Cook, co-founder of the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

"10 Americans" is the story about the EWG's benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in human umbilical cord. After seeing this presentation, all I could think was  — our parent's (and our) generation is passing down a horrific legacy.

Here's the story.

Not long ago scientists thought that the placenta shielded cord blood — and the developing baby — from most chemicals and pollutants in the environment. Au contraire, we now know that the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life, but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides. In the EWG study, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants (out of 413 tested) in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.

These weren't just any chemicals. Of the 287 total detected in the umbilical cord blood, scientists know that 134 of these cause cancer, 158 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, 186 cause infertility and 151 cause birth defects or abnormal development. Here's the worst part: The dangers of exposure to this complex mix of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins has never been studied.

(If at this point, you are thinking you're going to run to your doctor to get tested, keep in mind that the price tag was $10,000 for each sample.)

Here's the really interesting part — dosage. Chemical companies claim that exposure to low doses of chemicals do not create serious health effects. Ken destroyed any credibility to this claim with one single slide. So try to follow me here because this is important. The slide showed drugs such as the antidepressant Paxil and erectile-dysfunction remedy Cialis both effective at 30 parts per billion (ppb), which is equivalent to a single grain of salt in a bathtub of pure water. These pharmaceutical drugs have profound effects on the human body at levels comparable to levels commonly found for toxic chemicals. For example, BADGE-40H, a breakdown product of the hormone-disrupting chemical, Bisphenol A (yes, the chemical that's in Nalgene containers), was found in one study participant at levels three times higher than these drugs at 97.5 ppb. Also, PFCs—found to disrupt hormones and likely to cause cancer—are in stain- and grease-proof coatings such as Teflon, Scotchgard, and Gore-Tex and were found at 45 ppb. Albuterol, the asthma inhaler drug is effective at 2.1 ppb and Nuvaring, the contraceptive, at only .035 ppb! So the claim that the dosage of these toxins is too low to matter is a bunch of hooey.

I don't know anyone who is taking Cialis but apparently the bottle warns: "If you experience an erection lasting more than four hours call your doctor right away." A four-hour erection at only 30 ppb. Think about that people! (Ahem, that is, think about the implications of such an extreme side effect at this micro dose.)

We should all be taking to the streets. Why? Consider the data:

  • 3-5% incidence of birth defects
  • Hypospadias doubled from 1968 to 1993, now 1 out every 125 baby boys
  • Cryptorchidism affects 3% of full term baby boys
  • 62% increase in acute lymphocytic leukemia in children, 1973-1999
  • 40% increase in childhood brain cancer, 1973-1994
  • Incidence of autism now 1 in 150 children (60% boys)
  • 1 out of every 15 children aged 5 to 17 has ADHD
  • About 7.3 million American couples have trouble becoming pregnant or carrying to full
    term, an increase of 20% in the last 10 years.
  • Increasing most for women under age 25
  • Decreased sperm count by 1% per year
  • 1 in 7 women will develop breast cancer
  • 1 in 3 women will develop cancer
  • 1 in 2 men will develop cancer

And then this chilling quote appeared on a slide by itself:
"The combined evidence suggests that neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals has created a silent pandemic in modern society."
Lancet, November 8, 2006

Tomorrow I'll talk about the political issues and how we're going to climb our way out of this hellhole, but I'll close this post with some practical things you can do right now to reduce your "body burden".

  • Buy organic.
  • Eat low-mercury fish.
  • Filter your tap water
  • Use cast iron or enameled cast iron instead of nonstick
  • Avoid fragrance.

Details of the EWG study


Wow-- thanks Carla!! I look forward to the follow up info.

Carla, thank you so much for posting this. I'm going to put a link to it on my site right now, unless you want to be a guest author? I'd love to paste the whole thing. Let me know.

The comments to this entry are closed.


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