Since the Industrial Revolution, we have generated more than 110,000 chemical substances and, every year, we create a further 2,000 or more new ones. Many of these are toxic and eventually pollute our food, air, soil and water.
Once ingested, these substances accumulate in our fatty tissues, where they remain until the fat reserves are called upon - such as during pregnancy. At this time, all the contaminants accumulated by the mother have direct access to the microenvironment where the embryo/foetus is undergoing critical stages in its development.
A study at the Department of Radiology and Physical Medicine at the University of Granada examined the placentas of 308 women who had given birth to healthy children. It found that all contained at least one pesticide, and that the average was eight different types of chemical.
Many government agencies and industry groups, particularly in the US, claim that there is insufficient evidence to support concerns about most of the toxic residue in air, water, food and consumer products.
However, in the light of a growing body of evidence that humans are vulnerable to long-term harm from toxic exposures in the womb and during the first years after birth, scientists are now distancing themselves from those with vested commercial and political interests.
In a strongly worded four-page written declaration, many of the world's leading environmental scientists warned recently that exposure to common chemicals makes babies more likely to develop an array of health problems later in life, including diabetes, attention deficit disorders, prostate cancer, fertility problems, thyroid disorders and even obesity.
Even more disturbing is the recent revelation that not only is the growth of critical organs and functions skewed by exposure to various toxic substances, but genes that predispose people to disease can be switched on or off - permanently in some cases - and these changes in gene expression can result in altered traits being passed on to future generations.
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First Published in August 2007
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