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

 

 

An excerpt from Chapter 6, To the Ends of the Earth

[an animation of this chapter...]

 

 
 

Like polar bears, humans share the hazards of feeding at the top of the food chain. The persistent synthetic chemicals that have invaded the great bear's world pervade ours as well.

Humans also carry PCBs and other persistent chemicals in their body fat, and they pass this chemical legacy on to their babies. Virtually anyone willing to put up the $2,000 for the tests will find at least 250 chemical contaminants in his or her body fat, regardless of whether he or she lives in Gary, Indiana, or on a remote island in the South Pacific. You cannot escape them. Ironically, some of those living farthest from industrial centers and sources of pollution have suffered the greatest contamination: these chemicals travel long distances and build up along the way to high concentrations, especially in the Arctic, which is becoming a final resting ground. These synthetic chemicals move everywhere, even through the placental barrier and into the womb, exposing the unborn during the most vulnerable stages of development. When a new mother breast-feeds her baby, she is giving it more than love and nourishment: she is passing on high doses of persistent chemicals as well.

It has been three decades since health researchers discovered that DDT, PCBs, and other persistent chemicals were accumulating in human body fat and breast milk, as well as in every other part of the environment. The measurements have been the easy part. Since then, concerned scientists have been trying to understand their meaning. If we all carry around an alphabet soup of novel chemicals in our body fat, how is it affecting us? How is it affecting our children?

While researchers do not have all the answers to these questions, they are convinced that humans carry high enough levels of synthetic chemicals to endanger their children. Without knowing exactly how all these chemicals act, separately or together, the researchers have linked chemicals not only to damage in wildlife offspring but in humans as well. We will explore these links in later chapters.

While prenatal exposure seems to pose the greatest hazard, health specialists also worry about the chemicals passed on in breast milk because some sensitive developmental processes continue in the weeks immediately after birth. During breast feeding, human infants are exposed to higher concentrations of these chemicals than at any subsequent time in their lives. In just six months of breast feeding, a baby in the U.S. and Europe gets the maximum recommended lifetime dose of dioxin, which rides through the food chain like PCBs and DDT. The same breast feeding baby gets five times the allowable daily level of PCBs set by international health standards for a 150-pound adult.

The contamination of breast milk has been particularly severe among indigenous people in the high Arctic, where many people still eat the wild food the land and sea provide. There, researchers have found that babies take in seven times more PCBs than the typical infant in southern Canada or the U.S. The PCBs and other chemicals that contaminate the infants have almost all arrived by wind and water currents.

 

 

 

 

 

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