A Disturbing Legacy

By Michelle Miller

Kenneth Cook, President of EWG has a story to tell. One would never guess that the man responsible for coming up with the catchy moniker, Environmental Working Group would within minutes of beginning his story, have us on the edge of our seats, begging for more clues. His engaging story, which he’s been telling for a year or so, unfolded before a group at The Presidio’s Thoreau Center for Sustainability last Friday, as part of a larger effort to pass the Kid Safe Chemicals Act. KSCA, first introduced to Congress in 2005 would pick up on the 30+ years of environmental legislative slack by requiring chemical manufacturers to provide health and safety information on chemicals used in consumer products like baby bottles and food wrap instead of presuming a substance is safe until proven dangerous.

10 Americans is the story of environmental legacy and heritage, of evolution, revolution and degradation; specifically man’s unique ability to foul his own environment on the most fundamental of levels. We got to know the 10 Americans through the research project, BodyBurden. They were chosen at random by the American Red Cross, over a period of 4 weeks in later 2004. The subjects’ blood samples, identified only by birth date, were tested at the same time, at a testing cost of $10,000 per subject. The tests, looking for a possible 413 toxic chemicals found 287; 212 of those had been banned more than 30 years ago, and the average was 200 toxic chemicals per subject. The results indicated exposure to carcinogens, and risks associated with developmental progress and disease of neurological, pulmonary, endocrine, reproductive and cognitive systems. Considering the average woman uses 12 personal products per day, exposing herself to a mean of 168 chemicals, the test results were not so surprising; that is until one other fact is revealed. That is the blood samples were umbilical cord blood, taken at the birth of each of the full term, ‚Äòhealthy’ subjects. Industrial pollution begins in the womb.

Cook applies these results and their implications to several different perspectives regarding industrial pollution: legislation, public health, product stewardship, toxic concentrations, all of which offer specific challenges, underscoring the need to make them understandable to as many as possible. EWG focuses on presenting the results of their research in a manner which not only transcends partisan politics but scientific notation as well.

While discussing trace elements, concentrations and therapeutic dosages in ppbs (parts per billion), we were reminded that in the world of ¬º” pancakes, 1 pancake (1ppb) relates to a stack of pancakes 4,000 miles tall, and that proverbial drop in the proverbial Olympic sized swimming pool could be in excess of 15 billion molecules per drop. An active ingredient prevents pregnancy at levels of .019ppb, assists breathing at 2.1ppb, de-stresses at 30ppb, yet trace toxic elements at like concentrations or greater escape consideration. This illustration seemed to craft Cook’s argument for a human toxome to parallel the human genome in the ongoing nature versus nurture discussion. For the purists among us, BodyBurden dots all the ‚Äòi’s, crosses all the ‚Äòt’s and spells out the alphabet soup that courses through our unborn children.

The questions around industrial pollution wound their way through assumptions of safety (reversal of burden of proof) and non transparent Scientific Method and risk analysis alluding to the wisdom of the Precautionary Principle. Many boomers grew up under the adage “If you have to ask the cost, you can’t afford it.” Truth be told, those who can afford it know exactly what it costs. Before promoting ‚Äòprofit at any cost, beauty at any cost, anything at any cost’, industry and individuals alike need to understand what that cost is, and that some of the currency being spent is not theirs to spend. Cost accounting has advanced to levels that allow businesses to understand expenses of concern at levels that would defy understanding by most, so please pass the pancakes. Independent and transparent evaluation of safety protocols, pollution levels and life cycle analysis of products and methods would clarify positions on both of these issues.

The work of non-profit EWG, a self declared public interest watchdog is educational, focusing on the environment, environmental protocols and legislation in relation to public health initiatives and medical specialties, industry and safety, as well as how we define ourselves as a culture, today and tomorrow. EWG presents valuable resources on many environmental topics and will unveil its new site on June 9, ’07.

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