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Kids in the Gulf by Alice Shabecoff

As the massive oil slicks from the BP Gulf spill advance upon shores and communities, everyone is worried about the effect on wildlife and the natural environment, but
strangely silent about another unavoidable danger. Substantial harm to the children of the Gulf Coast is now unavoidable.

If you can smell oil in the air, as is now reported, that means the chemicals are in the air, and can be inhaled. Parents who are helping to mop up the oil (often, we’ve heard, without even being given gloves) will bring these chemicals into their homes on their skin and clothing. As the oil hits shore, it enters the water supply.

Crude oil is complex mix of hundreds of highly toxic chemicals, including benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are infamous for their capacity to cause cancer as well as damage to the nervous system. In fact, crude oil components can damage every one of the body’s systems, from the reproductive and respiratory systems to the immune system, kidneys, liver and gastrointestinal system. They disrupt the organs that make up the endocrine system that controls mental and physical growth as well as fertility. They easily penetrate cell walls, to damage cell structures, including DNA.
But the danger is greatest to children because their immature bodies, with incompletely formed immune and detoxification systems, are substantially more vulnerable than adults’. The child in the womb is the most at risk. The report released just a few days ago by the President’s Cancer Panel warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy. Harm has already occurred: childhood cancer, once a rarity, has leapt 67 percent over the past twenty years as chemical production escalated. We’ll see a spike in similar awful statistics for the Gulf area in years to come.

Why aren’t federal agencies discussing this looming disaster? They need to alert local authorities of ways to minimize exposure. People who work with crude oil need to be given protective equipment. Special measures must be taken to protect young children and pregnant women.

Our children’s bodies are already dangerously overloaded with toxic substances and far too many, one out of three, are suffering from chronic, sometimes deadly, illnesses as a result.

What will we learn from this disaster? Will the costs in childhood cancer, birth defects, asthma, and dwindling male births be factored into our nation’s future energy plans?
This latest assault from the sea is one more reason that we need to act now to phase out oil from our economy and from our environment.


For more information: Crude Oil Health Hazards Fact Sheet, by Dr. Michael Harbut (Kamanos Cancer Institute) and Dr. Kathleen Burns (Sciencecorps),
Click above to access the Fact Sheet.

Alice Shabecoff is the co-author with her husband Philip of the just-released book,

Poisoned by Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill.

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Poisoned For Profit – The Toxic Assault on Our Children by Philip Shabecoff & Alice Shabecoff

The environmental assault

We and our children are exposed to toxins invisibly, stealthily, without our knowledge.

The U.S. now makes or imports 42 billion pounds of chemicals per day (not even counting pesticides, drugs, food additives or polymers).

Causing harm

POISONED PROFITS, based on more than five years of investigative research and reporting, reveals the cumulative scientific evidence connecting the massive increase in environmental poisons to the epidemic of disability, disease, and dysfunction among our nation´s children.

The manufacturers and their defense team

The authors conclude that the poisoning of the environment is as grave a threat to the future as any problem confronting our nation.

Yet even as individual parents and pediatricians struggle to fight illness, one child at a time, the public remains in the dark about the enormity of this crisis. Why? because corporations control the system, molding laws to their liking. The book shines a light on the motives and means of corporate-paid lawyers, “product defense” companies, fake grassroots groups, research centers and scientists, including one paid $600 an hour to watch a movie.

The Victims

POISONED PROFITS, cast as a crime story, relates what happens to the victims—the families and communities polluted by different toxic substances—by pesticides, nuclear waste, industrial chemicals, air pollutants. Here are the stories of Dickson, Tennessee, where an extraordinary number of babies were born with cleft lips and palates after landfill chemicals seeped into the water; and Port Neches, Texas, where so many graduates of a high school near a petrochemical plant contracted cancer that it was nicknamed “Leukemia High”; and a small brother and sister in Indiana who, exposed to pesticides, slipped into severe retardation.

Genes + the environment

In layman´s language, the book explains how genes and the environment act upon each other, how mental and behavioral illnesses can be environmentally-triggered, affecting both the body and mind. And it explains the ways in which the fetus and young child are much more vulnerable than adults.

Our nation picks up the tab for these illnesses—POISONED PROFITS gives the dollar figures for reduced productivity on one hand, the staggering cost of care for sick children on the other.

Solutions

Instead of fighting against disability and disease with cures, a never–ending struggle, the authors affirm that we now have the knowledge to prevent harm and they describe the solutions. POISONED PROFITS demonstrates how people are fighting back, whether through grassroots parents´ groups, the rise of “ecotheology” or the new “green chemistry” that replaces bad elements with harmless ones.

The Shabecoffs also include a guide for parents on how to reduce toxic risks to their children in their everyday lives.

POISONED PROFITS was researched and written with support from the Ford, V. Kann Rasmussen, Heinz Family and Rockefeller foundations, under the sponsorship of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Institute for Children´s Environmental Health are current sponsors. Some of the nation´s leading environmental health scientists served as advisors to the book.


THE VICTIMS

Sarah

Sarah Sauer at age seven fell ill with a brain tumor. The Sauers at that time lived near the Dresden 2 nuclear power plant in Grundy County, Illinois run by Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear energy producer. The Dresden plant and another Exelon-owned plant nearby had leaked millions of gallons of water contaminated with tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, into the surrounding environment. Some of it seeped into water supplies used by the Sauers and other local residents for drinking, bathing and cooking. Since the leaks, childhood leukemia has increased 49% and childhood brain cancer has increased 104%.

Exelon hadn’t informed the community of the leak. After it became public, Exelon repaired the leak with duct tape.

Cindy, Sarah’s mother, describes herself as a devout Christian. She thinks that the pollution that affects her child and other children is a right to life issue of great importance. “I don’t want my government allowing corporations and industries to put toxins in my environment that could be dangerous to my family. It’s always economics vs health, and economics always wins.”

Justin

Justin was diagnosed with glioma, a very rare brain cancer, when he was 12 years old,” explains his grandmother, Ann Tillery. “They said it was inoperable; he would be dead in six months. I took him straight to Ronald McDonald House and he had six weeks of radiation. Then I took him to his home, gave him herbal remedies, music and touch therapy. I learned how to play pool with him. I stayed at his house every day; I slept on the floor. I asked God, ‘Where is my miracle?’ He lasted 42 months. I suppose that was my miracle.”

Their community in Texas is home to synthetic rubber manufacturing facilities. Justin told Ann: “Grandma you have to find out what is doing this to me. I don’t want other children going through this.”

Lauren

Lauren Woods was born with a cleft lip and palate; now 11, Lauren has undergone five surgeries—lip closure, palate closure, inserting tubes in her ears, and removing a piece from the middle of her palate—and has at least 13 more to endure. The Shriners facility for children with birth defects did her surgery pro bono. Down the road, lives Peyton, born with a cleft lip and palate and a deformed heart.

In all, nineteen children within a two year period were born in Dickson, TN, with clefts (the national average for a town of this size is three), as well as brain, heart and penile defects, and cancer. Their mothers while pregnant had all drunk water laced with the solvent TCE leaking from a nearby landfill. The polluter was a company which subsequently deserted the town, leaving behind a bankrupt shell. TCE is one of the most common pollutants of water in the U.S.

Their community in Texas is home to synthetic rubber manufacturing facilities. Justin told Ann: “Grandma you have to find out what is doing this to me. I don’t want other children going through this.”

Sean

Sean Behm went through bouts of destructive behavior in his early school years, driven by his dyslexia and other learning problems. He once spoke of ‘jumping off the (Golden Gate) bridge,” and asked his parents if he was mentally retarded. Bullies at school kept taunting him. His mother, JoAnn, an RN with a masters in nursing, left a job she loved to spend time attending to her son’s needs and to advocate for environmental health for children in California. With his parents’ advocacy and care and finally finding the right school, he’s made it to young adulthood and college where he’s studying chemistry and industrial technology.

Jo, looking for possible causes, volunteered for a study in California that looked for industrial chemicals in adults’ bodies. “Every pollutant I was tested for, I have. That includes heavy metals, industrial compounds, pesticides, phthalates, flame retardants, and DDT. What did I as just Jo Citizen do to deserve this, why am I carrying around all these products? How about young people and the fetus and the embryo and breastfeeding milk?”


Christina & AJ

Christina Ebling and her brother A.J. were normal, attractive little children when in 1994 their family moved into an apartment in a nice-looking garden complex in Indiana. Soon both children began to be convulsed by seizures. Today they are both tragically retarded. Christina, now 16, slack-jawed and vacant-eyed, has the capacity of about a three year old. She is incontinent, her speech is barely intelligible. She cannot even brush her own teeth. A.J. has an IQ of 44.

The parents subsequently discovered that their apartment had been repeatedly sprayed with Dursban, a pesticide made by Dow Chemical Company, and another chemical of similar make-up. These chemicals are related (in diluted form) to the nerve gas Sarin which Japanese terrorists piped into Tokyo subways in 1995, and the poison gas that Iraq’s Sadam Hussein used to murder 5,000 Kurds. Residues show up in the urine of nearly every American child.

Jobori

Two year-old Jobori Montgomery lives with his mother Latisha in an apartment complex in Port Arthur, TX, that is separated only by a playground and wire fence from vast areas of oil and chemical production facilities. Enveloped in air pollution from before birth on, Jobori suffers from a severe case of asthma, as do almost all the other children.

Latisha lives in a neighborhood where Hilton Kelley is organizing the parents. Hilton had grown up in Port Arthur but moved to California where he was enjoying a successful career as an actor and stunt man. One year, upon his return to Port Arthur for a visit, he was dismayed to see the havoc wreaked on the health of the people in the city by the dense warren of oil refineries and chemical plants that crowd around it. On the plane back to California he experienced a religious epiphany that convinced him to return to his home town and work to help the people there. He is still there in Port Arthur, running the community organization, trying to get industry there to clean up its act.

From the 1980s to now, the incidence of asthma in children has increased from 3.6% to 8.7%, more than doubled.

Michael

Michael Gillick developed brain cancer as an infant and was not expected to live to see his first birthday. He is now nearly 30 years old but he has been in pain all his life and has grown to only about three feet tall.

Michael lives in Toms River, New Jersey, where two chemical companies, Union Carbide and Ciba-Geigy, had operated for years and emitted or spilled large amounts of toxic chemicals into the environment. He is one of over 100 children in the area who have developed leukemia or brain cancer in recent years. But the local and state government did not investigate until Michael’s mother Linda organized parents into a mutual self-help and advocacy organization, Oceans of Love, and began raising hell. Toms River is one of only two federal investigations that concluded a cancer cluster existed, but even here the exact cause remains in contention.

Sheila

Sheila Holt-0rsted comes from one of the few African-American families in Dickson, TN. Her family has long owned and worked farmland only 500 feet away from the county landfill. Sheila sees what happened to her family and herself as a ‘poster child’ case of environmental injustice. She found evidence indicating that Tennessee environmental and water officials had concerns as early as 1988 about the possibility of TCE appearing in the Holt’s well water but left their water untested for nine years while TCE problems in the wells of white families were tended to.

Sheila, 45, a physical trainer, had breast cancer and continues to suffer skin rashes. Her father died of cancer at 67; her mother has breast cancer. Their cows died en masse, their chickens were born with three legs. Sheila has had cervical polyps; her sister has had colon polyps. Her aunt next door and three of her cousins have had cancer. Her aunt across the street has had chemotherapy for a bone disease. Her uncle died of Hodgkin’s disease. Her daughter, 12-year-old Jasmine, has a speech defect.


THE PERPETRATORS

Dow Chemical

What happened to turn Christina and A.J. from normal to tragically retarded children? Their decline began after the family moved to a new apartment, which, their parents subsequently discovered, had been repeatedly sprayed with Dursban, a pesticide made by Dow Chemical Company, and another chemical of similar make-up. These chemicals are related (in diluted form) to the nerve gas Sarin, which Japanese terrorists piped into Tokyo subways in 1995, and the poison gas that Iraq’s Sadam Hussein used to murder 5,000 Kurds. Residues show up in the urine of nearly every American child.

In 1995, the EPA discovered that for ten years Dow had been hiding from federal regulators no fewer than 302 lawsuits and other claims for money damages alleging Dursban poisoning. The EPA’s response was to fine Dow $876,000, a relatively insignificant amount to a company as large as Dow. Under threat of an EPA ban, Dow finally withdrew Dursban from home use in 2000, but it remains in use in agriculture and on golf courses.

Syngenta (formerly Novartis)

The Swiss company Syngenta (formerly Novartis), the world’s largest agrochemical manufacturer, makes the herbicide atrazine. Atrazine is the most widely-used weed killer in the Corn Belt of America; it is found in over 90 percent of water samples in farming communities, and in at least 23 states. Its use was never allowed in Switzerland, and it was banned by the European Union in 2003. Despite evidence that atrazine can turn male frogs into hermaphrodites, the EPA, after 50 private meetings with Syngenta and with two advisory committees composed of only Syngenta and EPA representatives, decided to keep it on the U.S. market with no new restrictions.

Syngenta interfered with the publication of a hired researcher’s study that had found exposure to atrazine during frogs’ fetal stage, even at levels 30 times lower than currently permitted in water, converted male frogs’ hormones to female, that the frogs had in essence been chemically castrated. New researchers were hired, who found no risk from atrazine at the EPA-allowed levels.

DuPont

DuPont has long been one of the largest producers of toxic substances. One of DuPont’s products is Teflon, manufactured in plants in Parkersburg, West Virginia …and contaminating the water supplies in West Virginia and Ohio. In secret tests conducted as long ago as 1984, DuPont found a Teflon-related contaminant in the area’s tap water but the company never told the community, its water utility or state regulators, a violation of federal law. This indestructible chemical, found in the blood of over 95 percent of Americans, causes cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems in animals.

Twenty years later, EPA fined the company $16.5 million for two decades’ worth of cover-up (less than half of one percent of DuPont’s after-tax annual profits from the Teflon product over that period). For many years, DuPont was a major producer of the tetraethyl lead used in gasoline.

Monsanto

For almost 40 years, the Monsanto Company manufactured PCBs (fire-resistant chemicals once used in electrical equipment) in an Alabama town called Anniston, in a section of the city populated largely by African-Americans. The company “routinely” dumped millions of pounds of toxic wastes, including mercury and other hazardous substances but chiefly PCBs, into streams and open landfills in and around Anniston. Internal documents show that Monsanto knew it was poisoning the community with potentially devastating health effects. Thousands of Anniston citizens filed damage claims against Monsanto on behalf of themselves and their children; those who won were awarded small sums. PCBs, a probable carcinogen which also harm the brain and nervous system and damage the body’s hormones, were finally banned 1978.

Monsanto also manufactures Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), which is injected into cows to increase milk production, as well as the Agent Orange herbicide used in the Vietnam war and the pesticide 2,4-D, whose manufacture leaves a residue of the highly toxic by-product dioxin.


(Side note – August 20, 2008 – Under the terms of the agreement, Lilly will purchase assets and liabilities of Monsanto associated with the POSILAC brand and related business for an upfront payment of $300 million, plus additional contingent consideration. The transaction will be completed as soon as practical. Additional terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Elanco has been marketing recombinant bovine somatotropin for Monsanto over the last decade outside the United States under a licensing agreement.) – Eli Lilly/Elanco was the last manufacturer of DES until 1996. They are quite familiar with synthetic estrogen chemicals.

General Electric

General Electric was one of the two U.S. companies that made the greatest use of PCBs in its manufacturing. Over the years, the company buried tons of PCBs on its huge site in Pittsfield, MA, and also released the chemicals into the river near their plant, which then spread throughout the town, and into the Housatonic River. They also gave tons of PCB-contaminated soil to town residents. A small mountain of PCB-contaminated waste lies right behind an elementary school.

GE similarly polluted the Hudson River with PCBs. Internal company documents indicate that GE, despite protesting no harm occurred, was aware for many years that its dumping of PCBs might cause health problems and liabilities for the company.

Co-Conspirators

If perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel, finds its way into a person’s body, through drinking water for example, it knocks out the thyroid gland’s ability to use iodine and that disrupts the body’s major systems. In an adult, that could be harmful. In a fetus or infant, even in small amounts, it can destroy the brain.

For decades, perchlorate has been leaking from military dumpsites into surrounding areas. For decades, the Pentagon and its aerospace contractors have known about the leaks. By now, perchlorate contaminates the public drinking water sources that supply 40 states, the entire Colorado River and the water for farms in California growing berries and lettuce for the nation. But the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin and Kerr-McGee, among others, have colluded, spending millions of dollars to block the EPA from requiring any clean up. The corporations have contracted with “science-for-hire” laboratories to generate study after study over the years to muddy the debate and to keep fighting with EPA over ‘safe’ levels.


SOLUTIONS

Appendix A of POISONED PROFITS is a comprehensive summary of actions you can take to reduce the toxic assault on your children.
This guide starts with advice specifically for pregnant women and pregnancy-planning couples, then discusses choosing a neighborhood, and then removing harmful substances from

your home,
water,
food,
furnishings,
cosmetics and other personal care products,
household cleaning and laundry products,
your car and
your child’s school.
The guide addresses the question of the pediatrician you chose and encourages readers to take action as citizens.


TAKE ACTION

Our nation needs an active citizenry. It is the American way. Repairing our children’s health requires all parents ot take on some active role. Throughout the book, POISONED PROFITS identifies non-governmental organizations which are changing public policy for the benefit of our children and ourselves.
Research and Public Policy

Beyond Pesticides provides a wealth of information in a variety of formats about the risks of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other toxic pesticides to human health and suggests alternatives to their use. It also provides insights into pesticide policies of government and industry. http://www.beyondpesticides.org

The Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City does research into environmental sources of childhood illness and ways to combat such illness through science and public policy. It offers a variety of practical information for parents and physicians. http://www.childenvironment.org

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice offers information on toxic substances and technical and organizational support to help communities deal with environmental threats to health. http://www.chej.org

Children’s Environmental Health Network is a national organization of physicians, scientists, environmentalists, community organizers and other citizens. It monitors the science and public policy aspects of children’s environmental health and proposes courses of action for individual citizens and communities, as well as national policy initiatives. http://www.cehn.org

Healthy Child Healthy World (formerly called Children’s Health Environmental Coalition), a national group formed by parents of sick kids, provides information about preventable childhood illness caused by exposure to toxics in the home, school and community, and what parents can do. Its HealthEHouse is an interactive website displaying the various rooms of a typical home, the possible contaminants lurking in each, and advice about simple ways to avoid or minimize risk. http://www.healthychild.org

The Collaborative on Health and the Environment, a leader in the emerging environmental health movement, is an international network of individuals and organizations working together to collect and advance knowledge about links between health and the environment. It pays special attention to children. http://www.healthandenvironment.org

The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health does research to study the effects of environmental pollutants and their impact on infant and child health. The results help communities improve environmental health through science and public policy. http://www.ccceh.org

Environmental Health Sciences is a non-profit group that publishes free of charge Environmental Health News and Above the Fold online, both valuable summaries of new research articles and media stories with hyperlinks to the original sources. Users can go to stories about children’s health with a click. http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org

The Environmental Working Group is a Washington, D.C. based non-profit that investigates and publicizes environmental contamination, who is doing it, and what the consequences are. It collects and publishes online and in print a trove of information about how children are exposed to toxic substances and offers practical advice about what parents might do about such things as chemicals in cosmetics, flame retardants, playground equipment, food, and frying pans. http://www.ewg.org

Institute for Children’s Environmental Health works to create networks of organizations and individuals to promote a safer environment for children. It presses for precautionary action to remove products and processes that harm kids. Its website offers much useful information and links to many other sites. http://www.iceh.org

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a national non-profit research, lobbying and litigation group, maintains a very usable website devoted to the health of children. It monitors toxic dangers to kids and also keeps track of what the government is doing or not doing to protect children. http://www.nrdc.org/health/kids

Physicians for Social Responsibility, founded in the 1960s to address the medical consequences of nuclear warfare, now produces research, policy reports, and training materials to address other serious environmental threats. Its Boston chapter holds seminars across the nation to train pediatricians in children’s environmental health. http://www.psr.org

Science & Environmental Health Network is a consortium of North American environmental organizations and a leading proponent of the Precautionary Principle as a new basis for environmental and public health policy, to protect and prevent illness.
http://www.sehn.org

TCE Network, For families who discover the toxic solvent TCE in their water supply, contact http://www.cpeo.org, a network of families and scientists to share information and fight to remove the chemical from use.

Organizations Advocating for Solutions to Specific Childhood Illnesses

The Learning Disabilities Center of America provides support to children, teachers, and physicians who help children with learning problems. Its Healthy Children Project (www.healthychildrenproject.org/exposures) offers information about the link between toxics in the environment and those problems. http://www.ldanatl.org

Autism Research Institute, founded to conduct and sponsor scientific research, collaborates with the Autism Society of America, a parent advocacy organization, following the theory that autism is a whole body condition that is treatable. They offer the Defeat Autism Now project for parents and physicians. ARI maintains a website which offers advice and support to parents and information for physicians; and has published a manual for use by doctors for helping kids with autism. http://www.AutismResearchInstitute.com

Birth Defects Research for Children, a national nonprofit organization founded by a parent of a child with birth defects, offers free information, parent networking and birth defect research. It operates the only National Birth Defect Registry, which collects information on all categories of structural and functional birth defects as well as the health, genetic and environmental exposure histories of the mothers and fathers of the affected child. http://www.birthdefects.org

Families Against Cancer and Toxics (FACT), founded by parents of children with cancer, is both a network and a source of information and research news. http://www.familiesagainstcancer.org

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