crying baby polluted cord blood A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Photo © Karen Grigoryan \ Fotolia.com

The list of things that expectant mothers should avoid is notoriously long: hair dye, unpasteurized cheese and even some herbal teas, to name a few. But according to Pre-Polluted, a new report on the toxic loads of Canadian newborns, our everyday lives are packed with toxins that are difficult for even the most conscientious mothers to escape.

The report has found that Canadian children are being born pre-polluted with toxic chemicals in their bodies. Conducted by Canadian environmental action organization Environmental Defence, the study analyzed the cord blood of three babies from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas in February 2013. Of the 310 chemicals for which they tested, 137 were found. And 137 of those are reported to have human health impacts, including damage to nervous, reproductive, immune and endocrine systems. Many have been linked to cancer.

Fetuses and infants are especially vulnerable to toxic exposure. Their small, rapidly developing bodies absorb more toxins pound-for-pound than adults. And they lack the systems to flush out waste.

Among toxic but common chemicals like lead, mercury and dioxins, the study also found DDT and PCBs in all three samples. Both have been banned in Canada since 1970 and 1977, respectively. If such dangerous chemicals persist in our environment for decades, it’s clear how urgent it is to ban the toxins that are still legally permitted to permeate our lives.

The mothers who donated their cord blood to the study do not work in industrial settings where they might handle chemicals routinely. These dangerous toxins found in the cord blood are found in our homes. The 2006 report Polluted Children, Toxic Nation showed that Canadians are carrying toxic loads regardless of where they work, live, play or go to school.

“We are seeing alarming rates of childhood diseases such as autism, diabetes, cancer, obesity, asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that genetics are not explaining,” says A\J’s resident body care product expert, Jessica Burman. “This report shines a light on the sad state we are in right now where children aren't even safe in utero. They enter this world at a disadvantage.”

The implications of the report may seem overwhelming, but there are steps we can take, politically and personally, to begin eliminating toxins from our bodies and reducing our exposures.

Environmental Defence has successfully lobbied the Canadian government before when they advocated the banning of BPA in baby bottles and phthalates in toys. Again, they are pressuring Health Canada and industry to make a change to protect some of our society’s most vulnerable members. Environmental Defence is encouraging Canadians to support the cause by writing to the Ministers of Health and the Environment.

In addition to seeking political change, we can reduce the toxins we allow into our homes. Jessica Burman has authored a series of articles on the troublesome chemicals in everyday products and how to avoid them.

“All Canadians live downstream of the history of our industrial society,” says the report. While that history cannot change, it’s clear that we need to act immediately to curb its impacts, especially for those who haven’t even been born.

Lindsay is completing her Honours English Literature degree at the University of Waterloo. She is interested in bringing academic work down from the ivory tower, and the ways in which we can limit our personal impacts on the environment.  She has won three UW English Society awards for her poetry and prose. Lindsay likes reading, Mexican food, crosswords, and walking anywhere.

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