Monday, January 11, 2010

Chemical Soup for the Soul

A Sightline author who has recently gone on maternity leave did us all a favor and wrote up an informative piece summarizing the latest about the toxic problems with chemicals all around us -- and how they affect us:

As the Center for American Progress (CAP) reported recently (full report here, pdf), fertility problems, miscarriages, preterm births, and birth defects are all up. These trends are not simply the result of more women postponing motherhood to their late thirties like I have. Nope, it's more likely the chemicals all around us.

In fact, women under 25 and between 25 and 34 reported an increasing number of fertility problems over the last several decades. An estimated 3 to 10 percent of women have endometriosis—a leading cause of infertility that has been linked to chemical exposures. Nor are reproductive health problems limited to women. In men, average sperm count appears to be steadily declining, and there are rising rates of male genital birth defects such as hypospadias, a condition in which the urethra does not develop properly.

Why is it happening? A link may be made to dramatically increased chemical production. The number of chemicals registered for commercial use in the US now stands at 80,000—a 30 percent increase since 1979. According to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, US polluters reported a total of 4.1 billion pounds in toxic releases to the air, water, and soil. Three chemical groups—phthalates, BPA, and PBDEs—are linked to reproductive health problems and are present in all of our daily lives.

As a father of a 4-month-old, new of these types of impacts drives me batty.  We can do so much better than this.

I wonder: in 20 or even 50 years, how much of the stuff we use today we are going to look back on in the same way we now look back on the lead that used to be in paint and gasoline, like the DDT and other nasty pesticides that were once commonly sprayed, and like cigarettes?

At what point will we -- at the societal level -- learn to become more careful with our chemicals before approving them for widespread societal use?


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