Just about everything an expectant mother takes into her body is shared with her baby, and unfortunately, that goes for the chemicals she absorbs as well. We live in a world awash in chemicals, and it’s impossible for anyone living in modern society to avoid them all.
In fact, the typical pregnant woman has dozens of potentially toxic or cancer-causing chemicals in her body, including ingredients that are normally found in things like flame retardants or rocket fuel. A study published in the January 14, 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives found that nearly all of the 268 women studied had detectable levels of 8 different types of chemicals in their blood or urine. Here were the most common ones, based on the percentage of pregnant women who had these circulating throughout their body:
- Perchlorate (an ingredient in rocket fuel): 100%
- BPA (bisphenol-A): 96%
- Lead: 94%
- Cadmium (a toxic heavy metal): 66%
- Mercury: 89%
- DDT (a banned pesticiede): 62%
As scary as these results might be, this study only tested for 163 chemicals (out of the 80,000+ that are in use today). So it vastly understates the overall amount of toxins that are actually in a woman’s body. Many of these chemicals not only pass through the placenta but can actually concentrate in the fetus, according to lead author Tracey Woodruff, director of the University of California – San Francisco’s program on Reproductive Health and Environment. (ibid)
The modern world’s chemical problem
The world is swimming in chemicals, and sadly, there is very little oversight governing their safety. As just mentioned, there are more than 80,000 different chemicals in use throughout the United States. Yet counterintuitively these chemicals are deemed safe until proven otherwise. The EPA cannot require companies to test the health risks unless there is already explicit evidence of harm coming from somewhere else. Patent law also protects companies from disclosing their ingredients, which means companies can claim confidentiality and prevent the outside world from knowing what they are using. Ninety-five percent of new chemical patent submissions are cloaked in this veil of secrecy.
Of the 80,000 chemicals in use, 21,000 thus far have been deemed as hazardous. Yet only 15% of these have ever had health and safety data submitted, and the EPA is powerless to require it. Even when the potential harm is clear, it has proven exceedingly difficult to actually get these toxic substances banned. Thus far, only 5 chemicals in use in the U.S. have ever been banned. Not 5%, five. That’s 0.000238% of the chemicals known to be toxic, and 0.0000625% of chemicals overall. (Scientific American, April 2010, p. 30)
This system is great for companies, but horrible for consumers, who must wait years to find out all the different ways they are being poisoned. It’s especially tough on children: Of the top 3,000 chemicals widely produced in the USA, only 12 have ever been adequately tested for their effects on the developing brain. (Szabo, 4-25-2011) Even when we know something to be harmful, it’s hard to escape it. Each and every one of us is walking around with chemicals in our body that are known to be harmful.
So where are all these chemicals coming from? They are literally in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the things we touch. Here are the main ways they get into your body:
1. Commercial products:
Many commercial products have chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin simply by touching them. Others can release compounds into the air we breathe.
Pesticide runoff from fields, as well as rainwater that washes over streets, ends up flowing into rivers which we draw upon for drinking water. Though the water is treated to kill pathogens, it cannot filter out many of the minute particles from chemicals, and so everything from air pollution to medications that other people piss out and flush will get recycled into the water we drink. For example, perchlorate has been found in water systems in 26 states. Ground water can also contain both natural and man-made contaminates.
3. Air Pollution
Emissions from cars, power plants, and factories release many hazardous contaminates into the air.
Food can be contaminated by whatever chemicals and toxins a plant or animal encounters. Meat can contain concentrations of whatever was in what the animal ate, drank, or inhaled. Any product containing produce or grain can contain pesticides, including things like canned or packaged foods made with grain or produce.
5. Food Containers
Chemicals from food containers leech into the product, resulting in more chemical exposure simply by eating.
Not only do these chemicals raise the risk of birth defects and other fetal abnormalities, but they can trigger genetic changes and other vulnerabilities that will impact your child for many years to come. As stated by Hugh Taylor of the Yale School of Medicine, “Many diseases we see in adults owe their origins to fetal exposures” to toxic chemicals. (Raloff, 7-18-2009) In fact, many chemicals cause problems that go several generations deep, affecting not just your growing baby, but her baby’s baby as well.
There is no way to completely avoid this exposure, but you can minimize it. Throughout the rest of this chapter we’ll discuss some of the more harmful chemicals known, and talk about ways to limit your exposure.