No Unborn Baby Is Safe From Toxic Pollutants

CC BY 2.0. Jonny Hunter

It is frightening how easily pesticides and other chemicals can infiltrate the body's protective barriers -- and the damage they do.

It is lovely to think of newborn babies as the purest, cleanest little beings on Earth – brand new humans who have just emerged into the world and have yet to be touched by its darker aspects – but, unfortunately, this is not the case. The womb is no longer a safe place for babies, as the placenta, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord are unable to filter out contaminants. Babies are born pre-infected and pre-polluted by chemicals that we adults have created and dispersed.

According to Frederica Perrera, a professor and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, there has been a notable increase in development problems in children worldwide that parallels the increase in toxic contaminants in water, air, soil, and consumer goods, as well as the mounting effects of global warming. She writes in the New York Times:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds dozens of toxic chemicals, pollutants and metals in pregnant women, many of which are also found in cord blood of newborns. These include pesticides sprayed in inner-city buildings and on crops, flame retardants used in furniture, combustion-related air pollutants from fossil-fuel-burning power plants and vehicles, lead, mercury and plasticizers. All have been shown in epidemiologic studies in the United States and elsewhere to be capable of damaging developing brains, especially while babies are exposed in utero or in their early life.”

Research shows that climate change is increasing the incidence of infectious diseases, malnutrition, heat-related sicknesses, and mental trauma from catastrophic natural disasters. All of these factors, Perrera writes, “can directly or indirectly affect early brain development, the cognitive and behavioral functioning of children and their ability to learn.”

It’s a dismal picture for the future of humanity, and yet, Trump just announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord because of its “draconian financial burdens.” He prefers less regulation and more (dirty) industry, which he thinks will translate to greater financial benefits.

But what about the enormous financial cost of raising generations of humans damaged by toxic pollutants, not to mention the emotional/psychological burden? That outlay, which is only set to increase as Earth’s conditions degrade, could be offset considerably by prevention.

“The estimated medical and/or economic costs of I.Q. loss and behavioral disorders attributable to just a few environmental toxicants indicate the enormous benefits of prevention: approx. $56 billion in 2008 for lead poisoning and prenatal mercury exposure in the United States; 146 billion euros (about $164 billion) each year attributed to prenatal organophosphate pesticide exposure in the European Union.”

While Perrera advocates for stricter regulation and testing, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to ban chemicals promptly and broadly, it seems unlikely that these will happen anytime soon. It’s ultimately up to parents to start protecting their children aggressively before they’ve exited the womb – or even prior to their creation, if you’re aware of the damage caused to sperm by unregulated hormone-disrupting chemicals in household products.

It’s a scary time to be a parent, but it’s also more important than ever to add your voice to the call for a non-toxic world.