Physical Cliffs

by Kristen Hayes

I volunteered for Pennsylvania State Representative Rick Mirabito’s re-election campaign this year and while making calls I heard a few people refer to themselves as Physical Conservatives and the impending Physical Cliff that we are all about to go over. I understood that they meant Fiscal Conservative and Fiscal Cliff, but it made me think about the environmental issues impacting our children’s health, specifically in Pennsylvania. Our children are heading over a Physical cliff, so why aren’t we discussing it?

Why aren’t we discussing the fact that deregulation of various industries, chemicals and foods are being linked to illnesses and diseases in our born and unborn children? Why aren’t we discussing the George W. Bush appointed President’s Cancer Panel report released in 2010? Our children aren’t little Democrats or Republicans, they’re children.

In a letter to the President the panel states; “The Panel was particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.”

The President’s Cancer Panel closes their letter to the President by simply stating; “The American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures. The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

The President’s Cancer Panel Report Executive Summary states;

“The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.

Public and governmental awareness of environmental influences on cancer risk and other health issues has increased substantially in recent years as scientific and health care communities, policymakers, and individuals strive to understand and ameliorate the causes and toll of human disease. A growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.”

The Panel points out; “People from disadvantaged populations are more likely to be employed in occupations with higher levels of exposure (e.g., mining, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, certain service sector occupations) and to live in more highly contaminated communities. The reality of this unequal burden is not just a health issue, but an issue of environmental justice.”

Let’s take a quick look at just a couple of environmental toxins that impact our born and unborn children’s health through multiple routes of exposure via our homes, air, water, food and soil.

In Pennsylvania:

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issues a “Fish Consumption Public Health Advisory” In the 2011 Public Health Advisory, the DEP states, “Long lasting contaminants such as PCBs, chlordane, and mercury build up in your body over time.

Health problems that may result from the contaminants found in fish range from small changes in health that are hard to detect to birth defects and cancer. Mothers who eat highly contaminated fish for many years before becoming pregnant may have children who are slower to develop and learn. The meal advice in this advisory is intended to protect children from these potential developmental problems.”

Pennsylvania’s mercury emissions are second in the nation.

Methylmercury is particularly damaging to developing embryos, which are five to ten times more sensitive than adults. The impacts of Environmental toxins on our born and unborn children’s health is a Pro-Whole Life issue.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the way that children think, talk, walk and play.

Pennsylvania doesn’t have a Mercury rule because it was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2009.

And yet, Article I, section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides as follows:

Sec. 27.

Natural Resources and the Public Estate

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

From the American Academy of Pediatrics: Pesticide Exposure in Children

“This statement presents the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics on pesticides. Pesticides are a collective term for chemicals intended to kill unwanted insects, plants, molds, and rodents. Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.”

“Acute poisoning risks are clear, and understanding of chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging. Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”

“Recognizing and reducing problematic exposures will require attention to current inadequacies in medical training, public health tracking, and regulatory action on pesticides. Ongoing research describing toxicologic vulnerabilities and exposure factors across the life span are needed to inform regulatory needs and appropriate interventions. Policies that promote integrated pest management, comprehensive pesticide labeling, and marketing practices that incorporate child health considerations will enhance safe use.”

“Children encounter pesticides daily in air, food, dust, and soil and on surfaces through home and public lawn or garden application, household insecticide use, application to pets, and agricultural product residues.”

“Chronic toxicity end points identified in epidemiologic studies include adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight, and congenital anomalies, pediatric cancers, neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits, and asthma.”

“The evidence base is most robust for associations to pediatric cancer and adverse neurodevelopment. Multiple case-control studies and evidence reviews support a role for insecticides in risk of brain tumors and acute lymphocytic leukemia. Prospective contemporary birth cohort studies in the United States link early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides with reductions in IQ and abnormal behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism.”

From Pesticide Action Network of North America

A Generation in Jeopardy: How Pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence:

Compelling evidence now links pesticide exposures with harms to the structure and functioning of the brain and nervous system. Neurotoxic pesticides are clearly implicated as contributors to the rising rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, widespread declines in IQ and other measures of cognitive function.

• Pesticide exposure contributes to a number of increasingly common health outcomes for children, including cancer, birth defects and early puberty. Evidence of links to certain childhood cancers is particularly strong.

• Emerging science suggests that pesticides may be important contributors to the current epidemic of childhood asthma, obesity and diabetes.

• Extremely low levels of pesticide exposure can cause significant health harms, particularly during pregnancy and early childhood.

On the Federal level–At what point will toxic trespasses on our children’s bodies be declared unconstitutional? After all, according to our Declaration of Independence, haven’t our children been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?

When did we decide that protecting the profits of multi-national/multi-billion dollar Corporations should supersede protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life?

When did we decide that debt burdens are more important than disease burdens?  Shouldn’t we be addressing both issues?

When did we decide subsidizing the industries that are making our children sick with tax payer dollars is being fiscally responsible, but treating the same sick children with tax payer dollars is fiscally unsustainable?

When did we decide that protecting profit margins is more important than investing in the necessary infrastructure for prevention of health issues in our children?

If you put the cart before the horse, the cart doesn’t move, right? That’s exactly what we’re doing.

If we’re going to determine the importance of protecting our born and unborn children’s health in dollar and cents: On May 4, 2011 the Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers revealed the estimated costs on Environmentally-Induced Childhood Disease at $76.6 Billion.

The Mount Sinai site states: “The researchers found the annual cost in the United States to be an estimated $76.6 billion, representing 3.5 percent of all U.S. health care costs in 2008. The breakdown includes: lead poisoning ($50.9 billion), autism ($7.9 billion), intellectual disability ($5.4 billion), exposure to mercury pollution ($5.1 billion), ADHD ($5 billion), asthma ($2.2 billion), and childhood cancer ($95 million).”

It’s time for us to protect our most valuable and vulnerable citizens, our born and unborn children. The value of their lives can’t be measured in dollars and cents. I suggest that anyone that believes in deregulation should ask an infertile couple or any Mother that has suffered multiple miscarriages, has a child or children with life altering, life threatening or life ending diseases which legacy they would like to leave for their children and future generations—health or wealth and why should we have to choose between the two?

We need to approach environmental toxins triggering the health issues facing our children today and in the future from a Whole Life perspective.  We shouldn’t be choosing between leaving a legacy of health or wealth for our children. Our children are heading over the Physical Cliff and we have a moral obligation to protect them–the time is now.

I believe we can leave a legacy of fiscal and physical stability for our children and future generations—if we work together.

 Kristen Hayes is the Founder of PSALM- Protecting the Sanctity of ALL Life Movement, a Children’s Environmental Health Advocate and part of a group of Christians from the Evangelical and Catholic tradition that developed “The Joint Declaration on Life”. 


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