Keeping Your Children Healthy From The Start: What Every Parent Should Know About Toxins

When: Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 from 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
The Wakelin Room at the Wellesley Public Library

“We and our children are exposed to toxins invisibly, stealthily, without our knowledge. The U.S. now makes or imports 27 trillion pounds of chemicals per year, (a number that doesn’t even include pesticides, drugs, food additives or polymers).”

(from Poisoned for Profit, by Philip and Alice Shabecoff)

This is a staggering statistic. It is highly possible that chemical exposure increases the risk for cancer at any age. We can be exposed to chemicals by breathing them in, having them touch our skin, or getting them into our eyes or mouth (including on our fingers). There are many environmental toxins over which we have little to no control, but we can control how we choose to interact with them in our homes, our food and water, and our personal care products. The most important thing that we are informed consumers.

In our homes, we expose ourselves to chemicals in two different ways. The first are the so-called “hidden chemicals.” These are the ones that are in our household items because we have been told, by industry, that there is a need for them. We really don’t even think about them. One example is Scotchgard, a stain-resisting chemical that keeps our carpets and furniture from getting stained. One of Scotchgard’s main ingredients belongs to a large family of chemicals called perfluorochemicals. These chemicals persist in the body for decades, acting through a broad range of toxic mechanisms to present potential harm to a wide range of human organs. These same perfluorochemicals are in the Teflon coating on the pots and pans that we may cook with. These chemicals can disrupt fetal development, hormonal function and the immune system and increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Our food supply has the potential to damage the reproductive systems of a large number of women of child-bearing age, according to a 2009 study published in Europe’s leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction. The Toxics Reduction Institute, located in Massachusetts, reports that obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, childhood cancer, and other chronic disease impacts are costly human consequences of our industrialized food system. Antibiotics are added to animals to increase their growth, and become ingested into our systems when we eat meat and poultry, resulting in antibiotic resistance, which contributes to the emergence of resistant forms of disease-causing bacteria, according to the World Health Organization. Artificial growth hormones are regularly added to the diet of livestock. These hormones are of no benefit to humans, and two of these hormones – estradiol, a type of estrogen, and progesterone – are considered probable carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health. Estrogen has been linked with breast cancer in women and testosterone with prostate cancer in men, while progesterone has been found to increase the growth of ovarian, breast and uterine tumors. The European Union has already banned use of hormones in their animal products.

The average American uses somewhere between six and ten personal care products per day. As we shampoo and condition our hair or moisturize our bodies, we may be covering our hair and skin with dibutyl phthalate, one of the family of phthalates which have been found to disrupt the endocrine system, potentially cause liver cancer, and cause reproductive system damage, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics. We can avoid using this chemical simply by reading the ingredients’ labels on the bottles of our personal care products, and choosing alternatives. Triclosan, found in almost any soap labeled “anti-bacterial,” also disrupts the body’s endocrine system, which regulates growth and development. This chemical is so pervasive that it is found in the urine of 75 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Incidentally, the European Union has already banned or restricted use of phthalates and triclosan in their personal care products.

These are certainly gloomy facts to deal with, but once we are armed with knowledge, we can attempt to prevent harm. We can demand that products be tested and, even without conclusive evidence, removed from the market if there is sufficient weight of evidence indicating they are causing harm. We can produce and/or purchase chemical-free food and products for our families. However, most crucial is that we talk about these issues, and don’t sweep them under the proverbial (and, no doubt, Scotchguarded!) carpet. In understanding and taking action regarding the chemicals in our food, our homes, our lawns, our personal care products – indeed everywhere around us – we can become informed citizens and work together for a better world for us and, more importantly, for our children. In the words of Philip and Alice Shabecoff: “Environmental health can be a great unifying, empowering force.”

As we begin breast-cancer awareness month, it is important to note that the Massachusetts Breast Care Coalition is advocating for dedicated research and resources to answer the difficult question, “What is causing breast cancer?” The Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project asks you to join us in broadening that question to “What is causing all cancers?” by joining us as we host “Keeping Children Healthy From the Start: What Every Parent Should Know About Toxins,” a presentation by Philip and Alice Shabecoff, authors of Poisoned for Profit: The Toxic Assault on our Children. This free event is open to the public and includes informational resources and tips on how you can avoid unnecessary chemicals in our environment. The program will be held on Tuesday, October 11 from 7:00pm-8:30pm at the Wellesley Free Library.