In Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants, Carl F. Cranor documents the health threats posed by toxic hazards in commercial products such as cosmetics and cookware. Cranor argues that these chemical compounds should be subject to pre-market testing, as is the case with pharmaceuticals and pesticides, rather than presumed safe until harm is done. Below, Cranor presents the case for legal reform and outlines some of the additional channels of toxic contamination that have been documented since the initial publication of Legally Poisoned, which is new in paperback this month.
Recent scientific findings on the developmental origins of disease pose major problems for laws that currently seek to protect the public from toxic substances. Existing laws permit our children and us to be legally contaminated with untested substances that may be toxic. We are “legally poisoned.”
Since the hardcover publication of Legally Poisoned in 2011, a number of studies have reinforced its concerns. New York University researchers found that the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA)—previously known to cause hormone abnormalities, asthma, behavioral problems and obesity—is linked to heart disease in children. BPA is used to line food and beverage cans to prevent corrosion and because of its pervasiveness contaminates our food supply. More than ninety percent of the public is contaminated by BPA.
Brazilian scientists found that infants whose mothers were exposed to the commonly used pesticide permethrin during pregnancy were up to seven times more likely to have leukemia. Even children whose mothers were exposed three months before conception were twice as likely to develop infant leukemia as those whose mothers reported no exposure.
Scientists at UC Berkeley have found that children’s exposures to brominated flame-retardants (PBDEs) in the womb or early childhood can lead to cognitive declines: poorer attention and motor skills and lower IQ scores. Other researchers have found that brominated flame-retardants reduce the male hormone testosterone in men. Children have higher concentrations of these substances than adults, but virtually all citizens are contaminated. Brominated flame-retardants are in carpets, upholstery, curtains, plastics, furniture and house dust, but once released into the environment return to contaminate various foods.
These studies and others on the developmental origins of disease are revealing how diseases and dysfunctions can be predisposed or triggered by toxicants, diet, or even infections in utero or in early life. Children are especially susceptible to diseases and dysfunctions during development and much more sensitive to toxic exposures than adults at the same concentrations. Major catastrophes resulting from in utero exposures to Thalidomide, methylmercury, and diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the 1960s and 1970s shattered the view of the womb as a protective shelter in which children could develop safely before they began facing some of the risks and hazards of the external world into which they would soon be born. Subsequently, researchers have found that early life exposure to PCBs, lead, radiation, DDT, phthalates, brominated flame retardants, synthetic estrogens, some pesticides, some pharmaceuticals and other substances can cause less dramatic diseases or dysfunctions, many affecting a person for a lifetime.