Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



An excerpt from Chapter 12, Defending Ourselves



The threat explored in this book may seem overwhelming, especially to those confronting it for the first time. Feelings of fright and helplessness are, in our experience, not unusual. This is indeed a frightening problem. No one should underestimate its seriousness, even though the magnitude of this threat to human health and well-being is as yet unclear. It would likewise be dangerous to retreat into denial, which can be a strong temptation in the face of large, insidious problems that leave individuals feeling helpless and hopeless.

But however grim and unsettling the facts appear in this instance, facts are not fate. Trends are not destiny. Three decades ago, Rachel Carson's predictions about the impacts of synthetic pesticides led to major changes in their use and thus prevented much of the apocalyptic "silent spring" she envisioned. Today, the growing scientific knowledge about endocrine-disrupting chemicals gives us similar power to avert the hazards outlined in previous chapters. This should be reason for hope rather than despair.

Unfortunately, however, solutions to this problem will be neither quick nor easy. Much of the concern about hormonally active synthetic chemicals arises from the persistence that many of them have in the environment. Many don't readily degrade into benign components. A generation after industrial countries stopped the production of the most notorious of these persistent chemicals, their legacy endures in food and in human and animal bodies. Some will be in the environment for decades, and in a few cases even centuries. At the same time, other hormonally active chemicals remain in production and unexpected new sources of exposure continue to come to light. Most disturbing of all, many of us already carry contamination levels that may put us and our children at risk.

Defending ourselves from this hazard requires action on several fronts aimed at eliminating new sources of hormone disruption and minimizing exposure to hormonally active contaminants already abroad in the environment. This will entail scientific research; redesign of chemicals, manufacturing processes, and products by companies; new government policies; and efforts by individuals to protect themselves and their families. Tragically, there is no way to repair the damage done to individuals who now suffer impairments stemming from chemically caused disruption during their early development. Such damage cannot be undone. But with diligent work by goverment bodies, scientists, corporations, and individuals, we can reduce the threat to the next generation. Over time, the ill effects now evident in wildlife and humans could diminish and gradually disappear.

That is the good news in this troubling picture. Although hormone-disrupting chemicals can cause grievous, permanent damage to those exposed in the womb, they do not attack genes or cause mutations that persist across generations. They have not altered the basic genetic blueprint that underlies our humanity. Remove the disruptors from the mother and the womb, and the chemical messages that guide development can once again arrive unimpeded.

Up to now, women have generally assumed that they could help ensure the health of their children by being vigilant during pregnancy about what they eat and drink and about exposure to X rays, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals. Such short-term prudence will certainly protect the unborn child from many kinds of permanent damage, including the devastating neurological effects of alcohol. But protecting the next generation from hormone disruption will require a much longer vigilance-over years and decades-because the dose reaching the womb depends not only on what the mother takes in during pregnancy but also on the persistent contaminants accumulated in body fat throughout her lifetime. As discussed earlier, women tranfer this chemical store built up over decades to their children during gestation and during breast-feeding.

Thus, it is critical that we as individuals and as a society make choices that reduce this chemical legacy that is being passed from one generation to the next. In the interest of the coming generation and those that follow, we must limit what children are exposed to as they grow up and keep the toxic burden that women accumulate in their lifetimes prior to pregnancy as low as possible. Children have a right to be born chemical-free.







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