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Report Finds Early Child Development Harmed By Common Products Including Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, July 12, 2004)
A new report released in June by Environment California Research & Policy Center, "Growing Up Toxic: Chemical Exposures and Increases in Developmental Disease" pulls together the latest science and offers recommendations to prevent the potential harm to children posed by pesticides and chemicals found in common household products.

The report links together compelling scientific studies that together paint a vivid picture of some of the most pressing health concerns our country faces today. The report focuses on four categories of common household products that contain chemicals that either have not been tested for safety, or have been linked to adverse health effects that may be harming children. The categories include phthalates, flame retardants, polycarbonate plastic, and pesticides.

Phthalates are used in shampoos, perfumes, beauty products, food containers, plastic wrap, and children’s toys, and are linked to premature births and male reproductive problems. Flame retardants, used in foams, plastics, and electronics, are linked to impaired learning and behavior disorders. Hard polycarbonate containing bisphenol-A, one of the top 50 production-volume chemicals in the U.S., is used for baby bottles, drinking water bottles, and food containers, and is known to potentially act as a synthetic substitute for the female hormone estrogen.

The report collected a number of studies on the consequences of pesticide exposure as depicted in the following excerpts:

  • Pesticides and their breakdown products are commonly found in people. In a recent study, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention found 13 different pesticides in the average American, out of 23 pesticides under consideration. (See Daily News story.)
  • One study found an association between miscarriages caused by birth defects and commercial pesticide applications within a nine square mile area around the home. Another study found that boys conceived during the period of most intense application of the herbicide 2,4-D were five times more likely to have a birth defect than boys with no unusual exposure. (See Beyond Pesticides Press Release.)
  • Children exposed to agricultural pesticides show deficiencies in intellectual development, stamina, balance, hand-eye coordination, and short-term memory. (See Daily News story.)
  • The EPA banned household uses of the pesticides chlorpyrifos and diazinon in 2001. It appears that this health-protective action had a nearly immediate effect. After 2001, mothers in New York City had lower levels of these compounds in their bodies and, remarkably, gave birth to heavier and longer babies than those born before the pesticide ban. (See Daily News story.)

"Open the doors to the average home where children live, and you are apt to find the usual trappings of childhood—toys strewn about on the floor, cupboards secured with safety locks, baby gates at the top of the stairs," said Yana Kucher, co-author of the report. "Yet while parents endeavor to stimulate their children’s development and protect them from hazards, the very and products their children are surrounded by are likely exposing them to chemicals that could harm their development."

"For years, chemicals manufacturers have insisted that ‘the dose makes the poison,’ and that human exposures to chemicals in products were too minute to cause harm," said Kucher. "However, recent science shows us that chemicals’ effects on humans may be much more complicated.”

In June 2004, Assembly member Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) introduced legislation that will ban hazardous phthalates from cosmetics and personal care products (AB 2012). The legislation will also help consumers make informed choices about products they purchase, by requiring that manufacturers fully disclose the chemical ingredients in products. "Preventing birth defects is far more important than producing nail polish that doesn't chip," said Assembly Member Chu.

The report authors advocate several policy changes to help protect the public:

  1. Phasing out chemicals that persist in the environment, accumulate in organisms, or for which evidence of potential harm to human health exists;
  2. Requiring chemical manufacturers to disclose to the state the techniques to detect their chemicals, in the air, water, and our bodies;
  3. Requiring chemical manufacturers to supply the state and federal government with toxicity data for their products, including low-dose effects on development and reproduction;
  4. Encouraging the federal government to stop lobbying on behalf of US industry against the new European Union chemicals policy and to take a stronger stand for public health.

TAKE ACTION: Support the above recommendations and contact your local Assembly members and suggest they introduce similar legislation as Assembly member Judy Chu. Work with Beyond Pesticides to pose opposition to EPA’s continued registration of the worst chemicals, to begin requiring data from manufacturers on endocrine disruptors, and demand that inerts be listed on all product labels. See Beyond Pesticides Alerts pages and Watchdogging the Government for regular updates.