A bill that would provide protection to young children against toxic chemicals — both before and after birth — was unfortunately bottled up in the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee last week but should be revived by amendment before this legislative session ends.
An Act Concerning Children's Products and Chemicals of High Concern would develop and maintain a list of priority chemicals of "high concern" for their adverse health impacts on children. These chemicals are widespread in consumer products, invisible to the eye, damage children without noise or fanfare, and have long-lasting effects on the health and welfare of our society.
Above all, the bill recognizes one important and fundamental biological reality: Children are not scaled-down, younger versions of adult human beings.
From the moment of conception, through the nine months of pregnancy and during the first years of infancy, children are exquisitely vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Pound for pound of body weight, children breathe more air, drink more water, eat more food than adults, and take more chemicals into their bodies. Moreover, a child's body is undergoing critical development and rapid change, possesses limited metabolic capacity and is therefore highly sensitive to toxic agents.
Injury caused by chemicals can irreversibly damage a child's vital organs. Damage to the lungs can cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Injury to the developing brain causes loss of IQ, shortening of attention span and lifelong disruption of behavior, and can result in learning disabilities and school failure. Even tiny quantities of toxic chemicals that would cause no harm to an adult can permanently injure infants in the womb and young children.
In recent years, a flood of newly introduced synthetic chemical compounds have been incorporated into manufactured products, consumer articles and foodstuffs. Most of these chemicals have never been tested for safety. They have not been examined for their potential adverse impacts on newborn infants and young children. They have never been tested to see if they pose carcinogenic, neurological or developmental risks.
Many of these chemicals, such as phthalates, bisphenol A and a range of pesticides are manufactured in billions of pounds per year. They are in a wide variety of commercially formulated products. Phthalates, for instance, are used as plasticizers (softening agents) in plastic containers and food wraps, in cosmetic products and fragrances, and in baby lotions, shampoos and powders. Bisphenol A lines most of the food cans sold in America. Pesticides are widespread in the food supply and in our homes, lawns, gardens and playing fields. Americans of all ages are inundated with these substances. And now after years of uncontrolled exposure, we are beginning belatedly to realize that some of these chemicals can cause permanent injury to our children
Incidence rates of chronic diseases in American children have risen alarmingly. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that asthma has tripled in frequency. Neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, ADHD and mental retardation now affect nearly 15 percent of U.S. children. Incidence of childhood cancer has increased by nearly 40 percent. Obesity has tripled in prevalence and its consequence, Type 2 diabetes, is occurring earlier in life and at epidemic rates.
Evidence is strong and continuing to build that toxic chemicals are powerful causes of disease in children. The likelihood is high that lurking today among the brightly packaged products on the shelves of Connecticut's drugstores and supermarkets are chemicals capable of causing brain damage and other developmental injury to our children.
Some may say that these chemicals are safe, but that is a false claim because most have never been tested. Some may say that a list will cause panic. We say it will educate Connecticut's consumers.
It is imperative that we draw up a list of priority chemicals that impact children's health. This in turn may lead to more rapid phaseout of toxic chemicals from child-related products, such as toys, clothing, school supplies, restraining devices and prepared foods. And to replace toxics, we should place greater emphasis on introducing safer alternatives.
It is no exaggeration to state that the future of our children and of our entire society is at stake unless we give these urgent considerations our highest priority.
A. Karim Ahmed, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., is the dean for global health and Ethel H. Wise Professor and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.