Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Toxic Bisque on Thanksgiving Menu

I'm bringing toxic chemicals with me to our Thanksgiving celebration tomorrow. The convenient thing is, I don't even need to pack the chemicals in any special container, and they're readily portable! And when my two-month-old daughter breastfeeds day and night, she gets them too. Even though I eat a mostly organic, strictly vegetarian diet, odds are that my baby is filling her twelve pound body with a semi- toxic bisque eight to ten times a day.

By virtue of their spot at the top of the food chain, babies are able to receive powerful antibodies and immune-building substances through their mother's milk. Through the wonders of biomagnification, they also get the most contaminated of any food consumed by humans. The contanimation starts well before a baby has her first taste of milk. The Environmental Working Group's body burden study has identified the presence of 287 chemicals in umbilical cord blood. The contanimants only continue to build as mothers and babies engage in the natural symbiosis of feeding and eating. While the research about the effects of all of these toxic chemicals is growing (though mostly focused on their impact on adult males rather than newborn babies...), the truth is that we don't exactly understand how all of the pollutants in our air, water and soil work together in the complex ecology of the human body. We just know enough to be afraid.

As a new mother, I am horrified, and I'm raving mad. And I suspect that most of us, parents or not, would never choose a world in which a baby fills her tummy with PCBs, dioxin, and other chemical substances. I want to do my part to create a society that is sustainable and life-giving. We know that the declining health of our planet threatens future generations. As a collective body of individual decision-makers, we also need to be aware that our children's health is at risk from the imminent danger of man-made toxins, as the sustenance that nourishes and gives life to the young and voiceless is threatening their future health in ways that we do not fully comprehend.

What can we do? I've thought of a few starting points that I'm going to explore:

  • Become educated. Sandra Steingraber's informative and very readable book (even for a non-scientist like me), Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood, is a good starting point. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago, but I think it's time for a refresher course. If anyone is interested in reading it, I'd love to compare notes.
  • Keep the environment in mind every day in every way. Many of us know good steps that we can take now to minimize pollution and the release of environmental toxins into the environment: drive less, walk or bike more; choose safer cleaning products; switch to compact flourescent lightbulbs; unplug appliances when not in use; minimize trash and waste; use reusable cloth napkins, silverware, shopping bags, and coffee cups; eat a local, organic, plant-based diet. We know these steps and so many more. Let's infuse our daily decisions with the urgency of a parent worried about a desperate child.
  • Advocate for breast milk monitoring. According to the NRDC, there are still not enough comprehensive studies on the subject of environmental contaminants in breast milk. (And we all know that if we don't have thousands of scientists telling us that there's a problem, then we won't take any action. Oh wait, even when we do have thousands of scientists telling us that life on earth as we know it is gravely threatened by global warming, we still don't do anything about it....) Breast milk monitoring programs - like those established in Sweden and Germany - provide much-needed data about which pesticides and chemicals that get into breast milk and what the effects are. The United States doesn't have a monitoring system in place for breast milk. The NRDC's Healthy Milk, Healthy Baby campaign suggests writing Congress and state legislatures asking for hearings on the issue and research funds.
  • Tell the EPA not to weaken toxics reporting. The EPA's toxics release inventory program is a searchable database of toxic chemical releases in neighborhoods across the country. The EPA plans to scale back this program and make it more difficult for the public to be informed about toxic releases. Write a letter to the EPA before December 5th urging them to preserve the toxics release inventory. Physicians for Social Responsibility has a sample letter and more information here.
Let's work together. What are our next steps?


  • At 9:16 PM, Blogger Andrea Rusin said…

    Well, I haven't nursed anyone in about 19 years. But I hear you. You must be furious and afraid that this wonderful thing you're doing for your baby -and it IS wonderful- is still fraught with chemicals. Yet another reason to be an environmental zealot. There's always more that we can do, goodness knows!


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