March 21, 2009
Here's some bad news – which becomes good news if we take the opportunity to act on it. There are things we’ve been doing over the past 20 years which seem harmless enough, but which are really bad news for our children’s health. Here are five that have crossed my desk in just the last month.
1. Call them Air Toxifiers
Those things you plug into the wall and suddenly everyone looks like they’ve eaten a pot brownie. What do we imagine they contain - fairy dust?
The Natural Resources Defence Council found that 12 out of 14 air fresheners contained phthalates that can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems – including those marketed as “all natural” and “unscented”. They may also contain allergens and cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde.
It is atrocious that they are sold at all, let alone as “all natural.” If you see them in a house with children or young mothers, please warn the parents not to use them.
2. Call them Brain Retardants
When the US-based Environmental Working Group tested 20 mothers and toddlers for hormone-disrupting fire retardant chemicals PDBEs in their blood, they found that small children had three times more than their mothers, and far more than newborns.
The chemicals are sprayed into couches, chairs, and laptops at a rate ten times higher than in Europe, where the measure of fire risk is a smoldering cigarette. In North America, it’s a blowtorch.
PDBEs are toxic to the developing brain and reproductive system – and the reason why small children are more exposed is simply that they like to put their hands in their mouths. Once again, the chemicals should be banned. See www.ewg.org/reports/pbdesintoddlers
3. Call it Chemically-Induced Obesity
There’s also evidence that a baby’s exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals in the womb increases its risk of obesity.
The suspect chemicals include fire retardants (as above), Bisphenol A (used to soften plastics and line canned foods), and pesticides – a Spanish study found that babies born with high levels of the pesticide hexachlorobenzene in their umbilical cords were more than twice as likely to be obese six years later as children with lower levels.
It’s just another reason why we need to ban the use of pesticides, without any further delay.
4. Call it Television Surplus Disorder
There are way too many kids being diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and placed on Ritalin for much of their childhoods. Something’s clearly wrong – but what?
One of the strongest clues comes from studies that show that TV exposure in children aged 1-3 is associated with attention problems at age 7 – so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics has called for children under two to watch no TV or videos at all, and older kids to watch no more than 2 hours a day.
It’s logical – a child’s brain is still growing for the first two years of life, and TV images are several times faster than regular life. So the brain gets wired to think “this is normal”.
Another study in the journal Pediatrics found that the more TV children watch when aged 5-11, they more likely they are to have attention problems when aged 13-15. No TVs in children’s bedrooms. No TV whatsoever for children under 2.
5. Call it a Mobile Cancer Phone
Strong language? No.
In September 2008, analysis from one of the biggest studies into the risks of radiation, headed by one of the world’s most prestigious cancer researchers, Professor Lennart Hardell from the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, found that children and teenagers under 20 who use cell phones are 500% times more likely to get cancer of the glioma, the cells that support the central nervous system. Those who use cordless phones have a 400% greater risk.
Children who start using cell phones when young are also 500% more likely to get acoustic neuromas, benign but often disabling tumours of the auditory nerve which usually cause deafness.
Professor Hardell believes that children under 12 should not use cell phones at all except in emergencies, and teenagers should only use hands-free devices or headsets, and concentrate on texting. After age 20, the danger diminishes because the brain is fully developed.
A month earlier, the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute sent a memo to all his staff with the same warning – children to use cell phones only in emergencies, as their brains are still developing. In July 2008, Toronto Public Health issued the same warning, as has Britain’s chief medical health officer.
Now that the evidence is becoming more solid, the prospect of a future epidemic in which our children and grandchildren get cancer and lose their hearing is – well, extremely alarming. We need to take immediate steps to stop the growing trend for teenagers to talk forever on their cell phones, and the mobile phone companies had better take out big-time insurance to cover the lawsuits that will be coming their way.
The German government has also warned everyone to stop using Wi-Fi because of the radiation risks it may pose, and the lack of research into its health effects. Schools, in particular, should take immediate steps to unplug their Wi-Fi systems because of the greater risk to children.
First published in EcoNews: A monthly newsletter funded by your donations that dreams of a world blessed by the harmony of nature, the pleasures of community, and the joys of personal fulfillment, guided and protected by our active citizenship.