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The Physicians Committee



Bizarre Government Animal Tests to Set

How much toxic waste should we let Jenny eat?
© 2000, PHOTODISC

In April 1997, President Clinton issued an Executive Order to protect children from harmful substances in air, food, or water. By the end of 1999, however, Vice President Gore had effectively scuttled that initiative in a deal cut with the agency that was to carry it out. As a result, according to PCRM doctors and other public health advocates, a nursing baby is as likely as ever to encounter dioxins or DDT in breast milk, and a child venturing under the sink will find the same insecticide and cleaning fluid bottles that were there when the Clinton/Gore team took office.

Clinton's Executive Order 13045 directed federal agencies to identify "environmental health risks and safety risks that may disproportionately affect children." They were to find out what harmful substances are in food, water, air, or breast milk, pinpoint their sources, and help parents steer their children clear of these exposures.

Clinton's order was well founded. Hundreds of thousands of children have blood lead levels that put them at risk. Traces of mercury are common in many foods. In-utero alcohol and nicotine exposure reach children as their organs are forming.

But the program was handed off to Vice President Gore and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the EPA's request and with Gore's blessing, the Child Health Testing Program, as it is now called, was greatly narrowed in scope. The EPA abandoned any effort to actually test air, water, food, or breast milk. It decided against warning parents about which foods contain DDT or PCBs, both of which persist in the environment many years after being banned. The EPA's program even ignores children who have already been exposed to toxic chemicals and what harm may have come to them.

Instead, Gore and the EPA have decided to test chemicals on animals, primarily rats, in an effort to determine the toxic doses children should be expected to tolerate. If a chemical doesn't kill a rat or make him visibly sick, says the EPA, it's okay in your child's breakfast cereal or drinking water and fine for a breast-feeding baby.

The program has made animal protection groups cringe, as some of the EPA's tests kill more than 1,000 animals per chemical tested. Public health advocates are equally aghast. Far too many chemicals have looked safe in rodents or other animals, only to cause problems in humans, particularly children.

PCRM's Proposal to Protect Kids

In meetings with the EPA, chemical manufacturers, and health advocates, PCRM has proposed a radically different program, based on the following steps:

1. Actual chemical exposure levels should be measured by careful monitoring of breast milk, food, water, and air samples. One such program, called the National Human Exposure Assessment Survey (NHEXAS), measured chemicals in air, water, soil, dust, food, blood, and urine, as well as on surfaces and human skin in 1995, and a Science Advisory Board technical review was highly favorable.

2. When a chemical contaminant is identified, in water or breast milk, for example, the next step must be to track down its source and take action to eliminate it.

3. When humans have been exposed to chemicals, their health status should be carefully checked so as to allow strong public health measures without waiting for further testing.

4. We should assume the worst, aiming to reduce exposures without any a priori safety threshold of "acceptable" levels drawn from animal tests. Sensitivity to chemicals varies widely and unpredictably between species as well as between individuals. Doses that may appear safe in animals, even when adjusted by some arbitrary numerical factor, may not be safe for all humans. Sensitivities to potential mutagens and carcinogens differ widely between individuals due in large part to genetic differences.

5. Exposure results should be publicized to enable the public to take defensive strategies. We have a right to know what is in water and air and which food products are free of detectable residues.

The Executive Order that launched this process did not call for a massive program of animal tests. It called for reviews of existing safety data and proposals to inform the public about risks. For those exposures that present the greatest threats to children, we do not need endless testing; we need action that respects public health.

A Better Way

PCRM has called on the EPA not to attempt to exonerate chemical exposures by setting supposedly "safe" levels in animals. Instead, the EPA needs to be alert to what harmful substances children might come into contact with, track down their sources, and aim for zero tolerance. For naturally occurring substances, such as mercury, tolerable limits are set by natural background levels.

A helpful approach is taken by the School Environment Protection Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), which promotes hygienic methods in schools that avoid pesticide use, based on the working assumption that pesticides may have adverse health effects for some children at any exposure level.

Major Risks to Children

  • Lead concentrations are dangerously high for approximately 900,000 children under six years of age, putting them at risk for brain damage and other devastating consequences.
  • Mercury reaches children through consumption of fish and fish products, particularly tuna. While its toxicity is well-known, parents may not know where it is likely to be found
  • In-utero alcohol exposure causes 40,000 cases of birth defects annually in the U.S., including up to 12,000 cases of fetal alcohol syndrome, a common cause of mental retardation.
  • In-utero nicotine exposure causes stunted growth and mild retardation in children, based on an assessment of seven-year-olds.
  • DDT remains in the environment many years after being banned.
  • PCBs also persist in the environment, yet most people are unaware of their sources or how to protect themselves.
  • Cases of accidental ingestions in young children were reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers as follows for 1998:
1. Cosmetics and personal care products 157,551
2. Cleaning substances 129,441
3. Analgesics 89,985
4. Plants 84,185
5. Foreign bodies 73,983
6. Cough and cold preparations 64,761
7. Topicals 63,623
8. Insecticides, pesticides, rodenticides 46,447
9. Vitamins 39,396
10. Antimicrobials 36,597
11. Gastrointestinal preparations 35,391
12. Arts/crafts/office supplies 29,898
13. Hydrocarbons 26,018
14. Antihistamines 22,854
15. Hormones and hormone antagonists 22,655
  • Trans fatty acids in maternal diets reach the fetus. While animal experiments show no problem with trans fats, human studies have linked them to premature birth and neurological problems.
  • Heterocyclic amines are potent carcinogens produced from creatine, amino acids, and sugars in poultry and other meats under cooking temperatures.
  • Bovine peptides, especially those derived from albumin and insulin, in infant formulas are linked to insulin-dependent diabetes.
  • Shiga toxin is produced within a child's body after ingestion of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. It can cause massive organ failure.
  • Salmonella, campylobacter, and listeria are common in meats, often causing illness and fatalities.


 

Winter 2000 (Volume IX, Number 1)

Winter 2000
Volume IX
Number 1

Good Medicine
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