Several medical doctors have pointed out the fact that children are more susceptible than adults to damage from environmental toxic substances because, pound-for-pound, they drink more fluids, eat more food, and breathe more air than adults – and thus take in proportionately more toxics. Even more susceptible than the small child is the fetus in the mother’s womb. The susceptibility of the fetus must be emphasized because it is the stage of most rapid growth, and when brain tissue is being formed. It is in the very early stage of fetal development – the first few weeks – when the first tissues of organs are being formed, especially the growing brain (an estimated 200,000 new cells each day), that is likely to be most sensitive to disturbances from toxic chemicals.
As the neuroscientist Dr. Agin stated, “Every biologist on the planet who knows anything about cells and tissues and organisms is now fully aware that the nine months of human prenatal development constitute the most vulnerable and formative period in the life of any individual.” Dr. Ted Schettler wrote, “We used to be taught in medical school that the placenta serves as a barrier to environmental contaminants that a mother may have been exposed to, but actually that’s largely untrue. Almost anything a pregnant woman internalizes from the outside world that gets circulated in her blood can make it across the placenta. Ethyl alcohol is an especially potent toxic to the developing brain of an embryo.
Analyses of the first bowel movements of babies, have disclosed several organophosphate pesticides. Surely a shocking finding!
Dr. Barbara Boardman pointed out that, “there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of certain childhood ailments: asthma, male genital birth defects, precocious puberty in girls, learning disorders, and various cancers, especially cancer of the brain and leukemia.” According to a study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, childhood cancer has risen 1% a year since the early 1970s, asthma has gone up sharply, autism is rising dramatically, and more boys are being born with defects in their reproductive organs. Early life exposure to PCBs has effects similar to lead and mercury: infants who had been exposed to the highest concentrations of PCBs in breast milk had abnormal reflexes. Even three and a half years after birth, they had multiple behavioral problems, as well as impaired thyroid and immune systems.
In June 2004 the Environmental California Research & Policy Center issued a wake-up report, titled Growing up Toxic: Chemical exposures and increases in developmental disease. This report “focuses on the most recent science surrounding several emerging chemical hazards, and a growing body of evidence showing that chemicals found in the home and in common consumer products may hinder normal development…Premature birth, which raises the risk for reduced intelligence and learning and attention problems throughout life, is 23 percent more frequent now than in the 1980s in the United States. Neurodevelopmental and mental health disabilities are rapidly rising in California. Autism cases have more than tripled since 1994, and the number of students in public schools with learning disabilities increased 65% from 1985 to 1999. No one cause has been implicated, but the evidence raises questions regarding numerous potential factors, including exposure to toxic flame retardants, Bisphenol-A, perchlorates, pesticides, and the well-established culprits of lead, mercury, dioxin, and PCBs.”
The possible linkage between environmental toxics and autism continues to expand. Dr. Philip Landrigan, professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, reported that “he is increasingly confident that autism and other ailments are, in part, the result of the impact of environmental chemicals on the brain as it is being formed.” The most powerful proof-of-concept evidence derives from studies specifically linking autism to exposures in early pregnancy from thalidomide, misoprostol, and valproic acid; maternal rubella infection; and the organophosphate insecticide, chlorpyrifos. “The crux of this is brain development. If babies are exposed in the womb or shortly after birth to chemicals that interfere with brain development, the consequences last a lifetime.”
The fetus does not control its blood supply – the mother does. The baby does not control what it eats and drinks and breathes – the mother does. The toddler does not control what it puts into its mouth and where it crawls and plays – the parents do. These are crucial stages of life from which natural, toxic-free adult bodies should evolve. A young body free of environmental toxics has a much better likelihood of an adult life free of cancer, diabetes, and other debilitating diseases.
The message from experts is clear: fetuses and small children need to be kept free of toxic chemicals. Pregnant women need to be vigilant to protect their fetus from toxic substances in their home and neighborhood.