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Toxic Chemical Bill Championed By Industry, Chided By Children's Health Advocates

Brad Springer, 10, has fought and defeated neuroblastoma cancer -- twice. Today, according to his dad, the now healthy Idaho boy is wielding his powers in another battle.

Brad was among four children dressed up as "Toxin Freedom Fighters," complete with green shorts, capes and masks, in the halls of Congress on Wednesday. They hand-delivered a petition that urges legislators to strengthen the nation's regulation of toxic chemicals.

"As a parent you wonder, 'Was it something I gave him?' You really have no idea," said Zach Springer, Brad's father. "You can't directly link toxins to his cancer, but it certainly doesn't help to have them out there."

"Brad is anxious to help prevent others from experiencing what he has gone through," he said.

The children's visit to Congress came on the heels of Tuesday's House hearing on the Chemicals in Commerce Act, introduced in February to amend the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. A similar bipartisan bill was unveiled before the Senate last year.

While all sides agree TSCA reform is long overdue, a consensus remains elusive on just what that should look like.

The Toxin Freedom Fighters' petition, organized by eco-friendly product manufacturer Seventh Generation and signed by more than 120,000 Americans, argues that the drafted laws, which are widely supported by industry, fall short.

"The proposals before Congress to 'reform' our toxic chemical laws are more about protecting the chemical industry than they are about protecting public health," the petition reads.

House Democrats and witnesses during Tuesday's hearing went as far as to say the proposed law may even weaken chemical regulations, citing the law's ability to preempt more stringent state standards and its inability to force companies to disclose the names of toxic chemicals in products.

"The net effect is to go backward," Andy Ingrejas, national campaign director for the nonprofit Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, told the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

That's an especially damning charge given how harshly environmental advocates have criticized the current law. The nearly 40-year-old TSCA assumes a chemical is safe until proven toxic, and grants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency little power to act even when tests show a chemical to be unsafe.

Of the more than 80,000 chemicals permitted for use in the U.S., the EPA has only required toxicity testing of around 200. The agency has banned just five.

Representatives from groups including the American Chemistry Council, Procter & Gamble and the chemical company BASF expressed their support on Tuesday for the reform legislation at hand, saying it strikes a fair balance between public health and the economy.

"We need to protect against unreasonable risks, but we also need to be able to keep making the products that make every other aspect of our society useful," said Beth Bosley, president of Boron Specialities, representing the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates.

Others, however, argue that health and economic considerations need not be at odds.

"While restrictions on the use of some toxic chemicals may appear prohibitive at first, the advantage is that such regulations can stimulate innovation in green chemistry," Philippe Grandjean, chair of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told The Huffington Post.

What's more, research suggests that exposure to toxic chemicals can be an economic drain on society. One study published in 2011 tallied $76.6 billion in children's health care costs, lost working hours and reduced IQ points attributable to toxic chemicals and air pollutants.

The 2011 study took into account only a fraction of today's health concerns. For example, it didn't include the more recent findings of $1.49 billion lost due to childhood obesity resulting from exposure to bisphenol A, or BPA, an industrial chemical compound.

"I would suggest that stricter rules that aim at protecting the next generation and especially their brains would be a worthy purpose that we should be able to agree on," said Grandjean. "After all, these exposures cause harm to children, no matter whether their parents are CEOs, members of Congress or just average consumers."

Brad Springer will probably never know if his cancer was connected to chemicals he may have breathed, ingested or absorbed early in his life. But experts say there's increasing evidence that exposure to many chemicals, even at low levels, does elevate risks for a range of health problems.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the Department of Preventative Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, testified about the rapid rise of chronic diseases among children during a House hearing on the first draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act in March.

"Asthma has tripled. Childhood cancer incidence has gone up by 40 percent over the past 40 years. Autism now affects one child in 88. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects about one child in seven, according to data from the CDC," Landrigan said. "There is a strong body of scientific evidence that toxic chemicals have contributed to diseases in children."

While the redrafted Chemicals in Commerce Act underscores the need to consider risks to children and other disproportionately exposed and vulnerable populations, it doesn't provide a specific framework to do so, public health advocates warn. Further, they note, the law would require the EPA to weigh costs to industry before limiting the use of a chemical in children's products.

Advocates also say the proposed reform could override state laws and programs that protect the public against dangerous chemicals, a point underscored by attorneys generals from 13 states in a letter to the subcommittee.

On Wednesday, the Vermont House approved a bill to protect children from toxic chemicals. Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, recalled heavy lobbying on part of the chemical industry in the state. Nationally, the chemical industry spent a record sum on lobbying in the first quarter of 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

"We were up against the biggest players. There were more industry lobbyists opposing us than on the GMO issue," said Burns, referring to the hotly debated GMO-labeling law Vermont passed last month.

On their mission to reverse the burden of proof on toxic chemicals, Brad and his fellow green superheroes were accompanied into Congress Wednesday by a handful of parent advocates, including Zach Springer; Heather Buren, a San Francisco firefighter who is working to raise awareness about toxic chemical exposures among her ranks; and John Replogle, CEO of Seventh Generation, who noted that his team conducted some quick tests around the Senate building during the visit and discovered pervasively high levels of lead.

Also with the group was Kristi Marsh, a mother of three and breast cancer survivor who has spent the last several years educating and empowering women to make choices that limit the toxic chemicals in their homes.

"But the bottom line is, we can't do it alone," she said. "We need legislation to truly protect our families."


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Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S.: Autism Is Not Preventable -- Or Is It?

Imagine there is an outbreak of an infectious disease that could damage your child's brain for life. Wouldn't you want to know everything possible about how to prevent exposure to that disease? You'd surely make any sacrifice necessary to protect your child, and if your doctors weren't 100 percent certain of how this disease spread, you'd demand the best medical information available so that you could take precautions.

According to data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control, one in every 68 American children now has an autism spectrum disorder, an alarming 30 percent increase over 2012 estimates. This upward trend can no longer be rationalized as a product of "better diagnosing" -- environmental factors almost certainly are playing a role.

What could those factors be? Truth is, on average, Americans spend 90 percent of their day indoors. In today's homes, schools and workplaces, we encounter unprecedented concentrations of synthetic organic chemicals. In our tightly sealed, "energy efficient" buildings, these chemicals accumulate, and their concentrations can be two to five times higher, sometimes even hundreds of times higher, than in outdoor air. The production and use of synthetic organic chemicals skyrocketed after World War II. Sources include cleaning agents, fragrances, pesticides, furnishings, flooring materials, adhesives, paints, and other construction materials.

Already, there is ample evidence that environmental exposures can affect neurodevelopment. A growing number of published, peer-reviewed studies implicate flame retardants, vinyl flooring, proximity to freeway pollution, agricultural pesticides, coal-fired power plant emissions and other air pollutants including airborne heavy metals and possibly solvents as potential risk factors for ASD. Parents need help understanding which chemicals may be risk factors for their children's health. We are bombarded with chemical acronyms such as PAHs, PFOAs, PBDEs, BPA, phthalates and PCBs.

The vast majority of these chemicals entered our lives over the past 70 years. Our exposures have changed enormously, but our genes have not. Our bodies' elaborate detoxification systems are not equipped to deal with many of these novel chemicals. This situation is of greatest concern for children, infants and pregnant women, who tend to spend the most time indoors.

Indoor air contaminants are of special concern during critical windows of development -- particularly brain development. Embryonic brain development begins around three weeks post-conception, before most women even know they are pregnant. Families expecting a baby may unwittingly increase their exposures -- a move to a new house or renovation of a room often brings new furnishings, carpet, paints, fragrances and pesticides.

Doctors urge pregnant women to take their vitamins, get rest, and avoid alcohol, tobacco, and certain drugs. Just last year, obstetricians and gynecologists called for much-needed policy reforms and made sensible recommendations regarding environmental exposures. However, they failed to recognize and highlight the importance of the indoor environment.

Why don't doctors talk about indoor air? Because most doctors don't know about indoor air. For the past 20 years, I have been teaching medical students, and most are completely surprised to learn that the air inside their homes is very different from the air outside. I teach about indoor air by guiding students through an "environmental house call" that was designed for people with asthma. Interestingly, asthma and autism frequently occur within the same families.

We know that inhaled chemicals and particles can cause asthma in susceptible individuals. Little doubt remains that certain chemical exposures increase the risk of autism. Of course, more research is needed as is true for virtually every vital concern relating to human health, but do we need to know everything before we do something?

We may never have unassailable proof that certain exposures cause autism. Vested corporate interests may insist that more research is needed, but what we already know is frightening and the stakes are incredibly high.

We've developed a list of avoidable exposures, an approach we call the "personal precautionary principle during pregnancy" as described in a free online booklet: "Protecting Yourself and Your Family: How Exposures to Chemicals and Drugs Affect Our Health." Many of these exposures are things we bring into our homes. Some are clear risk factors (like pesticides), others are unstudied but eminently avoidable and unnecessary exposures like synthetic fragrances used in plug-ins, personal care products and fabric softeners. Because outdoor air contaminants inevitably migrate indoors, some exposures can be avoided by choosing not to live close to places where pesticides are routinely applied (agricultural fields, golf courses) or near heavy industry or traffic. Similarly, remember that idling the car or storing chemicals in an attached garage can contaminate the air in your home.

Our government is not going to regulate household exposures like these anytime soon. Indeed, we may never have sufficient data linking these exposures to adverse pregnancy outcomes. However, adults who have asthma or who are chemically intolerant/sensitive know firsthand the havoc these exposures can cause in susceptible individuals. Many parents already buy organic food for their children. Eating organic food can decrease exposures to pesticides. Some foods have more pesticide residues than others.

We've observed a clustering of what I call the "7As" (Autism, AD/HD, Asthma, Allergies, Autoimmune Disorders, Affective (mood) Disorders, and Addiction) among people who are chemically intolerant. The Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI) is a validated tool used worldwide to screen for chemical intolerance. It serves not only as a diagnostic tool but also helps people identify and eliminate their problem exposures. Everyone should take the QEESI (free online) to get an idea of how susceptible they may be, especially if their personal or family medical history includes any of the 7As.

Interestingly, Kanner described the earliest cases of autism in 1943, as WWII was underway and as petrochemicals were first being introduced. Today, petrochemical exposures are ubiquitous and appear to be playing a major role. The few studies cited here are just the tip of the iceberg.

So with all of this evidence at hand, why wouldn't concerned parents avoid potentially hazardous exposures prior to conception, during pregnancy and throughout infancy? We've outlined straightforward, actionable steps that may make a life-changing difference for the next generation.

Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., is a tenured Professor in Environmental and Occupational Medicine and Vice Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).


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Environment As Important As Genes In Autism

(Reuters) - Environmental factors are more important than previously thought in leading to autism, as big a factor as genes, according to the largest analysis to date to look at how the brain disorder runs in families.

Sven Sandin, who worked on the study at King's College London and Sweden's Karolinska institute, said it was prompted "by a very basic question which parents often ask: 'If I have a child with autism, what is the risk my next child will too?'"

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest heritability is only half the story, with the other 50 percent explained by environmental factors such as birth complications, socio-economic status, or parental health and lifestyle.

The study also found that children with a brother or sister with autism are 10 times more likely to develop the condition, three times if they have a half-brother or sister with autism, and twice as likely if they have a cousin with autism.

"At an individual level, the risk of autism increases according to how close you are genetically to other relatives with autism," said Sandin. "We can now provide accurate information about autism risk which can comfort and guide parents and clinicians in their decisions."

People with autism have varying levels of impairment across three common areas: social interaction and understanding, repetitive behavior and interests, and language and communication.

The exact causes of the neurodevelopmental disorder are unknown, but evidence has shown it is likely to include a range of genetic and environmental risk factors.

As many as one in 50 school-age children in the United States are diagnosed with autism, although some of these will be milder cases that have been diagnosed partly because of better recognition of autism symptoms by carers and doctors. In Europe, experts say the rate is around one in 100 children.

For this latest study, researchers used Swedish national health registers and analyzed anonymous data from all 2 million children born in Sweden in between 1982 and 2006, 14,516 of whom had a diagnosis of autism.

The researchers analyzed pairs of family members, identical and non-identical twins, siblings, maternal and paternal half-siblings and cousins.

The study involved two separate measures of autism risk – heritability, which is the proportion of risk in the population that can be attributed to genetic factors, and relative recurrent risk which measures individual risk for people who have a relative with autism.

Most previous studies have suggested heritability of autism may be as high as 80 to 90 percent. But this new study, the largest and most comprehensive to date, found genetics factors only explained around half of the cause of the disorder.

"Heritability is a population measure, so whilst it does not tell us much about risk at an individual level, it does tell us where to look for causes," said Avi Reichenberg, of the Mount Sinai Seaver Center for Autism Research, who worked on the study while he was at King's College London.

He said he was surprised by the results, as he did not expect the importance of environmental factors to be so strong.

"Recent research efforts have tended to focus on genes, but it's now clear that we need much more research to focus on identifying what these environmental factors are," he added.

(Editing by David Gregorio)

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.


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Shanell Mouland: A Little Girl Answers Your Questions About Autism, Part II

Dear Kate,

How come you only eat beige foods? I think you might be malnourished and your parents need to force you to eat something with nutritional value. I would make my child sit at the dinner table until she ate what was in front of her! You sound like a spoiled brat to me. Maybe your terrible diet is half of your problem.

The Surgeon General of Stunnedville

Dear Surgeon General,

First, let me be clear. My only problem is that you had enough time to kill between your hot yoga and learn-to-knit classes and it gave you a reason to speak to my mother. Secondly, I eat a very specific diet for reasons that are sensory in nature. I find the idea of eating an orange revolting. The smell makes my eyes sting and the texture turns my stomach. The color of the green beans on my plate forces me to look away. Furthermore, when there is pita bread on my plate, I can eat it. When you add strawberries beside that pita bread, you have changed both foods, as I am only comfortable with one food at a time. My parents have already spoken with multiple specialists in the field of limited diets and autism and they all agree that I am doing just fine with the current food expansion program that I am on. My mother sneaks powdered vitamins and omega-3s into the baby food that she still feeds me at the expense of looks from people like you. If you would like to learn more about my diet, please feel free to click here. I likely have a better diet than you because clearly you have eaten something that has turned you into a righteous a**hole.


Dear Kate,

Why do you still chew on baby teethers? I knew a girl who let her child have a soother until he was 4 and it was absolutely ridiculous. All the moms at playgroup talked about her as soon as she left the room. You'll never see my son doing something so foolish. Children should be weaned from baby items like teethers. Your mom isn't doing you any favors by letting you hold onto such a bad habit. Why don't you start breastfeeding again, instead? At least that would prove that you have a good mom.

Co-dependent Cathy

Dear Cathy,

Someday, in the future, I am going to make friends with your son's wife because she is going to need someone to drink with. Otherwise, you should know that I do not chew on baby teethers. I chew on very chic chewelry. It is jewelry that allows me to work out some of the oral sensory issues I have. I often have the overwhelming need to bite down, and rather than hurt those around me, I have learned to chew some of that anxiety away on my very hip collection of chewelry. In fact, as I read your letter I had to immediately reach for a piece, because otherwise I might have bitten right through mom's laptop.


Dear Kate,

Why do you choose to play alone? Sometimes, I feel bad when you don't choose to play with my daughter. She did say she would let you be Ken in her Barbie game. What more do you want? Do you not like her? I really want to tell my friends that she has a friend with special needs.

Sister Mary Catherine of Suburbia

Dear Sister,

I choose to play alone because I am independent and strong and the social conventions that rule your anxious world don't affect me in the least. I like your daughter. She is just not into Ninja Turtles yet. Her tastes are more freshman right now. When she becomes more sophisticated, we can play turtles together. I play alone because I am a honey badger. If you don't know what that is, please click here. I like being a badass. It makes my parents smile. They know I will be fine. I hope you don't share your anxieties about fitting in with your daughter. She is pretty cool herself, and I hope she stays that way.


P.S. Could you please leave the little deaf girl alone? She isn't interested in being checked off your good deeds list either. She'll befriend your daughter if she sees fit.

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