Birth Injury from Toxic Exposure, A Silent Pandemic

Birth Injury from Toxic Exposure, A Silent Pandemic | Pintas & Mullins Law Firm

The average American, including expectant mothers, is exposed to hundreds of toxins every day, through food, water, air and household items. Researchers have recently made a concerted effort to identify which toxins are causing developmental defects in children, and their results are troubling. Birth injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm dive deeper into this research and what can be done to protect future generations.

The two scientists at the forefront of much of this work are Dr. David Bellinger, a neurology at Harvard Medical School, and Philippe Grandjean, a dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. First and foremost, if you read nothing beyond this point, it is perhaps most important to note that scientists now recommend pregnant women eat only organic produce. Consuming organic products reduces toxic pesticide exposure by 80 or 90%.

In fact, a study by Emory University found that children who started eating organic food had undetectable levels of pesticides in their bodies after just five days. This is especially important for certain foods, such as spinach, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, and apples.

Bellinger and Grandjean, who are profiled in a recent Atlantic feature, have devoted their research to the human brain in its earliest stages – in utero and up to two years old – when it’s development is most vulnerable. The brain has 86 billion neurons, the majority of which are formed in the womb during gestation. Some of the dozen or so toxins Bellinger and Grandjean discuss in their work can potentially disrupt neurological development and permanently damage the brain even at low levels of exposure that would not affect an adult.

The dozen chemicals cited by Bellinger and Grandjean are: arsenic, chlorpyrifos, DDT/DDE, ethanol, fluoride, lead, manganese, mercury, polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), tetrachloro-ethylene (PERC), and toluene.

What They Are, and How We are Exposed

Let’s take clorpyrifos for example. The chemical was introduced in 1965 and widely used as an insect killer until 1995. In that year, the EPA discovered that the company that made the chemical concealed hundreds of reports of chlorpyrifos poisoning in humans and animals. The chemical was banned from household products in 2000, and is now classified as “highly toxic.” It is still, however, widely used on food crops, greenhouses, wood products, and golf courses.

In the 1990s, the National Institutes of Health recognized that young children are significantly more susceptible to chemicals than adults. Coinciding with this, researchers note that rates of diagnosis for autism, ADHD, and other neurological disorders are increasing – now affecting 10 to 15% of births.

There are tens of thousands of chemicals on market, and their oversight is minimal at best. The only law in existence that even feigns to regulate these chemicals is the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.

TSCA only requires testing for a small fraction of chemicals before going onto market, and it has not been at all changed since 1976. It is worth noting that the year it was enacted, more than 62,000 chemicals were already being used in the U.S., all of which were grandfathered in without toxicity testing requirements. They were simply assumed to be safe in humans. Even asbestos, the substance irrefutably proven to cause a severe and fatal form of lung cancer, could not be banned under TSCA, if that tells you anything.

Since 1976, about 20,000 new chemicals have been introduced, mostly untested, and only five have been removed. Researchers are most concerned about PBDEs and PCBs, which are known to cause cancer and other conditions affecting the immune, nervous, and reproductive systems. They are in plastics, rubber and other flame-retardant products.

Even those with ties to the chemical industry are strongly in favor of fixing the TSCA, however, the issue faces massive hurdles that epitomize the problems of our current political playing field. All parties want to fix the TSCA, but only on their own terms and if that cannot happen, TSCA will not be fixed at all. 

In May 2013, a group of 22 bipartisan senators introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, however, the senator who wrote the reform bill died shortly after, sending the Act into regulatory purgatory. One senator who chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works said it was the “most opposition I’ve ever seen to any bill introduced in this committee.”

The crux of the problem is a broken system that allows tens of thousands of chemicals to be used without testing for safety and health, and a political stalemate that refuses to do anything about it. We need strong and enforced chemical safety legislation, immediately and proactively.

Toxic substance lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are here to answer any questions you may have about birth injuries and chemical exposure to children. If your child was born with a serious birth defect that you believe is the result of toxic exposure, contact our firm for a free, confidential legal consultation.