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After meeting in the Faroe Islands recently, 200 of the world's leading environmental scientists from five continents warned Thursday that exposure to common chemicals at normal levels makes infants and those in the womb more likely to develop a wide range of health problems in later life. Some of these include diabetes, attention deficit disorders, prostate cancer, fertility problems, thyroid disorders and obesity. And that’s because when fetuses and newborns encounter various toxic substances the growth of their critical organs and functions can be irreparably changed in a process called "fetal programming," which leaves the children susceptible to diseases later in life, and perhaps could even lead them to pass on those altered traits to their children and grandchildren. Indeed, the newest animal research suggests that some chemicals can alter gene expression by turning on or off genes that predispose people to diseases, and though the DNA itself is not changed genetic misfires in the womb like these may be permanent, and could be passed on to the next generation.
So what was their ultimate conclusion? "Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in childhood and across the entire span of human life." Of course many governmental agencies and industry groups, and particularly those operating in the United States have said there is little or no human evidence to support concerns about most toxic residue in air, water, food and consumer products. But about 80,000 chemicals are registered in the United States and so scientists urged leaders not to wait for more scientific certainty and recommended that governments revise regulations and procedures to take into account subtle effects on fetal and infant development.
Some of the chemicals with evidence of developmental effects include compounds in plastics, cosmetics and pesticides and I thought one of their comments was quite similar to a refrain we’ve heard before from scientists on issues like global warming, "Given the ubiquitous exposure to many environmental toxicants, there needs to be renewed efforts to prevent harm. Such prevention should not await detailed evidence on individual hazards." I’m optimistic that someday the public will start believing the scientists who’ve dedicated their lives to studying issues like this in an objective way over some trade group hack selling his or her soul for a buck. Unfortunately I’m also betting that public shift won’t happen until we start seeing really negative results in obvious ways like melting ice caps, and I can’t see how that’s a positive thing in any way.