Every mountain, every valley, every creek on this Earth is home to creatures, organisms and spirits that have roamed the Earth a good deal longer than we have.

And yet it is we who have been gifted with the power to preserve, destroy, or restore. We are the ones who must choose. What will we create, as our legacy to the future?


The Pollution of Newborn Babies

First published in Common Ground Magazine, 2005.

During the winter weeks of 2003 to 2004, as December turned to January, many young couples made love under their duvets, repeating the ancient ritual which leads to the continuation of the human race - as we all do, now and then, around the world.

Nine months later, their babies were born: tiny toes, tiny noses, tiny bodies held in parents’ arms. Their umbilical cords were cut, and some of the cords were given voluntarily by their mothers to the Red Cross’s cord blood collection program, for use in the treatment of leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and bone marrow failure.

I’m sure the parents were happy with their offspring, and that all the normal oo’ings and coo’ings were heard. Far away in Canada, meanwhile, in Sidney BC and Winnipeg, scientists were analyzing the blood from ten of the donated cords, commissioned by the Environmental Working Group, based in Washington DC and Oakland, California.

What they were looking for was evidence of chemical contamination of the blood: and that is what they found. The average new born baby, if these ten randomly chosen cords are taken as a sample, has 200 different industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in its body at the moment of birth.

Take a minute to digest that information. Two hundred chemicals and other pollutants, including mercury, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, furans, pesticides, and chemicals from flame retardants, PCBs, industrial lubricants, plastics, Teflon, Scotchgard, industrial bleaches, electrical insulators, coal-fired power plants, vehicle emissions, and wood preservatives. In total, the scientists found 287 industrial chemicals in the blood, an average of 200 per baby.

If you are pregnant while reading this, don’t panic. It’s a bad situation, but there are things you can do. Take a deep breath, and read on.

These chemicals are all new to the human condition. During the millions of years that it took our bodies to evolve, they never had to deal with these things. But now look what’s happening:

Childhood autism: 1,000% increase, early 1980s -1998
Male birth defects: 200% increase in hypospadias, 1970 – 1993
Childhood asthma: 200% increase, 1982 – 1993
Acute lymphocytic leukemia: 62% increase in children, 1973 – 1999
Childhood brain cancer: 40% increase, 1973 – 1994
Premature birth: 23% increase, mid 80s – 2002
Infertility: 5-10% of all couples
Birth defects: 3-5% of all babies
Sperm count falling: 1% yearly decrease, 1934 – 1996

Is there a connection? Of the 287 chemicals detected, 180 are known to cause cancer in humans or animals. 217 are known to be toxic to the brain and nervous system. 208 are known to cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.

Children are biologically fragile. The babe in the womb is the most fragile of all. The blood in the cord is simply a reflection of the blood that is pumped daily from the mother to her baby and back again, carrying those 200 chemicals, reaching into the child’s developing brain, nervous system, organs, hormones, and reproductive system.

But surely these chemicals have been tested and approved for general use? The answer gives real cause for concern, because no, the majority of these chemicals have never been tested for their safety for anyone, let alone for babies or pregnant women.

There are 75,000 industrial chemicals in use in the world today; only 7,000 have undergone any kind of toxicity testing. Of the 3,000 high volume chemicals that are in daily use, only 7% have undergone the full range of toxicity tests. Of the 491 chemicals that are used by families and children, 75% are completely untested. None of the chemicals has been tested in combination with other chemicals.

On a personal level, we can take steps to eliminate toxins from our homes and gardens. The Labour Environmental Alliance Society, based in Gastown, Vancouver, has published a must-read CancerSmart Consumer Guide, $10 from ($7 if you buy 5 or more copies to give to your friends.) Call Mae Burrows, 604-669-1921.

Here are some other ways you can avoid at least some of the chemicals: Eat fewer processed foods. Eat more organic produce. Never microwave food in a plastic container. Run your tap water through a filter. Eat fewer meat and high fat dairy products. Reduce the number of cosmetics that you use. Avoid artificial fragrances. Don’t use stain repellants. Choose non-toxic household cleaners. Avoid using gas-power yard tools. Avoid breathing gasoline fumes while filling the car. Don’t eat canned tuna. If you eat seafood, stick to wild salmon that is low in PCBs and mercury. Don’t use nail polish, which contains chemical linked to birth defects. Avoid all cigarette smoke. Get rid of carpets, which store toxic chemicals.

On a collective level, we need to run an juggernaut of change through the bureaucrats and politicians who have allowed the chemical industry to get this far, putting all of our children in danger. This can’t continue. Change is coming.

Source: BodyBurden, The Pollution of Newborns. Environmental Working Group, July 2005. (Free download from