Evening Street Press strives to publish words with positive impact

Dear Mr. President and First Lady,

Have you ever reflected about what the future looks like today for young people who fall in love, marry, and have children? I was so lucky when I carried each of my four children in my womb back in the 1950s.  In those days, as soon as our babies were born we counted their fingers and toes, and my husband, of course checked the boys’ gonads.  

After that, we heaved a sigh of relief and as grateful parents went blissfully on with our lives.  We gave no thought to the magic of the chemistry in the womb that has evolved over four billion years enabling a single cell to split and keep splitting and splitting and moving about and miraculously create a baby in the womb.   

Nor did we give any thought to the numerous disorders afflicting children today. Think what the statistics tell us about the odds of children developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly called ADHD, or autism, or diabetes, or obesity. Today, one out of every three babies will develop diabetes and if you are African American or among the other minorities that will be every other baby.  One out of every 88 babies born today will develop autism spectrum disorder and if you are a boy, that is one out of every 54.  And in less than 10 years 80% of the population will be overweight.  No woman should have to live with knowledge about epidemics like this throughout her pregnancy and then watch every day for any tell tale sign that her precious baby might be diabetic or autistic because somehow the chemistry in her womb had become flawed.  

Many of these disorders that were once rare are the result of fossil fuel-derived chemicals interfering with our endocrine system, the overarching system that integrates all our body’s glands—like the pancreas, thyroids, adrenals, sex organs, and segments of the brain, and now we know, even body fat, the stomach, and intestines, are all part of the endocrine system – and they all produce hormones and function under hormonal control. Hormones regulate how we develop in the womb, and how our bodies function—they can affect our mood, our capacity for empathy, our sexuality, and our ability to process information so we can reach conclusions about what we are hearing and seeing and doing, and most important, our ability to look each other in the eye and socialize, and solve problems, in essence hormones humanize us. Today checking our newborns is not as simple as counting fingers and toes to know if our babies are “all right.”

So, how could the delicate endocrine chemistry with hormones operating in the womb at concentrations at parts per billion and parts per trillion, suddenly be undermined in just three or four generations? When my babies were born in the 1950s no one could perceive the impending plethora of epidemics that chemicals would cause. In those days we believed the mantra that there was a barrier in the placenta and a barrier in the embryo and fetal brain that would never let stray chemicals get through. The discovery in 1968 that alcohol consumption could breach those barriers should have opened the door for a flood of new research and intensive testing of other chemicals on fetal development. —But it didn’t.

Back in the 40s and 50s numerous corporate laboratories were built around the world in order to create more and more chemicals using as feed stock the toxic by- products from fossil fuels to increase profits. We were sold pesticides, plastics, detergents, cosmetic ingredients, food additives and more— on the promise that there would be better living through modern chemistry.

And then in the 50s and 60s, the US and Russia began to allocate vast sums of money for outer-space research. In order to get to outer space, innovative chemicals were designed to make construction material lighter and stronger than steel.  These innovations got us to the moon and Mars and also got us more new products for our homes and offices, and more new recreational products.

If there ever was a need for inner-space research on what these chemicals could do in our bodies, it was when outer-space exploration began—but no one thought of that—then. As a result, today the surface of the earth is saturated with manmade chemicals that society and the global economy have become totally dependent upon—chemicals  that can interfere in the womb with the delicate endocrine system that makes possible the development and differentiation of that precious single cell in the womb into a  normal healthy child.

Yes, a small number of the nearly 100,000 new chemicals produced up through 2011 were tested but at high, occupational level, doses for the probability they could cause immediate harm, obvious birth defects, and cancer…and governments set standards, using risk assessment and cost benefit analysis to determine whether a chemical is safe, based on the odds of getting cancer. But, the odds that a baby born today will become compromised with one or more endocrine disorder are far greater than the odds of getting a malignant cancer.

This has happened because of the old chemical safety standards that predominantly focus on cancer.  Those standards are deeply embedded in the language of federal health regulations allowing corporations to continue to put dangerous chemicals into their products, into the food we eat, and into the air we breathe.  Chemicals are now in wide use that were never tested using assays that can detect disturbances in the womb that eventually lead to diseases that might not appear until puberty or even later in life such as obesity, infertility, dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.  Our laws have let this happen. 

We should have caught on, when back in the 1980s, it was discovered that animals at the top of the food web in the Great Lakes had been put at great risk by PCBs. But remember, PCBs made possible the electrification of rural US in the 1930s. They are made from benzene, a toxic by-product of oil and natural gas, and chlorine, a highly reactive gas, and are persistent in the environment for many years. These chemicals, used as heat resistors and fire retardants, had bio-accumulated 10 to 250 times or more at each level up the food web. A large number of the adult animals were unable to reproduce, while the offspring of others were so compromised that they never made it to maturity.  In addition, many of the mature birds had lost their parenting instincts displaying all forms of indifference in attending to the nest and the nestlings.

Another chilling warning came about ten years later, when it was discovered that mothers eating fish from the Great Lakes had given birth to children, who had symptoms of ADHD and reduced resistance to infection—and that the intensity of the brain damage was correlated with the level of PCBs in the mothers’ blood that, like the birds, they shared with their babies before they were born.

While everyone thought that PCBs were being phased out, the chemical industry had already started using bromine as a substitute for chlorine on benzene and selling the compounds to replace the PCBs.  These brominated compounds were universally sold and dispersed as fire retardants, before the technology was developed to detect them in the environment—and then again, like the PCBs, were found in animals and humans from the Arctic to the Antarctic because they too are persistent—and like the PCBs affect the brain, the immune and thyroid systems, sperm count and sperm quality. 

It is incomprehensible that any corporation would go ahead, after the mistakes made with chlorine and bromine, and take fluorine, one of the most highly reactive chemicals in the world and a sister chemical to chlorine and bromine, and begin selling tons of fluorinated compounds that persist over geological time — to make fabrics water-proof and soil resistant — and to prevent scrambled eggs from sticking to the frying pan.  These chemicals are in very personal products next to our bodies—in toiletries and clothing—in furniture and car seat fabrics—and in our cookware.

In just the past two years a cadre of independent, pioneering scientists, incorporating the principles of endocrinology in their research, found that these fluorinated chemicals affect prenatal development, the adrenals, the pancreas, the thyroid system, the male and female gonads and even the liver, kidney, and immune systems. Yet current public health policy prevents regulators from using this information to protect us — because of the way our laws are structured.

Chemicals like these raise all kinds of questions about how decisions are being made within corporations and what is wrong with our toxic substance control laws.

Nonetheless, there is hope—I believe that our salvation lies with the pioneers coming from the disciplines of endocrinology, immunology, biochemistry, developmental and molecular biology, neurodevelopment, electron microscopy and more.  Unlike toxicology, their research was not designed for regulatory purposes, but solely to better understand the mysteries of how we develop, reproduce, function, and behave—in other words, what makes us human.  They now have thousands of peer reviewed papers written about hundreds of chemicals interfering with the endocrine system, many at doses thousands of times lower than they were ever tested before.   

Back in 2003, two years after 911, my college age grandson, after a few hours at my computer reading some of these new research findings, turned to me and said, “Why this is nothing more than industrial terrorism in the womb.”

Mr. President if you really want to go after the terrorists that pose the most imminent threat to our nation and our economy, you need to make these stealth chemicals your number one priority.  Keep in mind that there is no safe level of exposure for many of these chemicals.  They penetrate the body and the womb at levels so low they have to be radio-labeled so that each atom can be counted and then their weight extrapolated from that count. 

Mr. President the best way to get out of a hole is to stop digging it deeper. It is here, where you, as the head of our nation, can step in and help. Keep in mind that both the ravages of climate change and the increasing endocrine-related epidemics are intimately connected with the increasing use of fossil fuels and their byproducts. By drilling deep into the bowels of the earth for coal, oil, and natural gas, we have unwittingly and catastrophically altered the chemistry of the biosphere and the human womb. Something must be done immediately.

You are in an excellent position to change the course of this tragedy and get right to the source of the problem. 

Remember the Manhattan Project? The US built an atomic bomb in two years and ten months. The United States could again bring together some of the most brilliant minds in the world this time for peaceful purposes to provide renewable energy for the globe and significantly remove the fossil sources of chemicals that are the cause of so many disorders—that would be a giant step toward world peace.

Let’s face it, humankind is in the midst of a dire health crisis that requires immediate intensive care to survive, and sadly the current health related polices have failed to protect us.  A new level of discourse is needed immediately between science and policy.

Again, Mr. President, you can fulfill this need from the Oval Office, by bringing together leaders from our nation and around the world, who have records of independence and integrity, and those articulate scientists, who understand the endocrine system and its vulnerability.  Appoint them to serve on a Council dedicated solely to Inner-Space Research with a platform that embodies the principles of endocrinology, the principles that encompass the very essence of lifeCharge this Inner Space Research Council to create an entirely new set of 21st century rules and polices to address the chemically induced disorders that are dehumanizing us on a global scaleYou must do this, Mr. President, to save our children’s futures—indeed all our futures.

Thank you for reading this letter,

Theo Colborn