This Earth Day, April 22, 2010, marks the 19th anniversary of the passing of our only child. Colette Chuda was five years old when she left this earth.
She died in 1991 of a non-hereditary cancer, Wilm's Tumor, which we believe could have been prevented. In her honor we founded Healthy Child Healthy World to inspire parents to become educated--and to find the solutions in their homes, schools and communities to live better and have healthier lives without persistent chemicals.
Even though Earth Day is meant to celebrate significant environmental achievements throughout its 40-year history, raising a child in today's world can be very challenging.
Since World War II, we, our children, and even their offspring have become human hosts to an array of industrial chemicals--some seep across land and are embedded in the veins and arteries of the fish we consume, the bottles we use to feed our young, and just about every product in our environment. The United States feeds, houses, and clothes us with chemicals. 42 billion pounds a day--here and abroad.
As citizens and custodians of future citizens of the world we are not all living better. In fact, according to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through biomonitoring, a survey revealed that every human being carries traces of 212 environmental chemicals in their bodies which include toxic metals like arsenic and cadmium, pesticides, flame retardants and even perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket fuel.
What is even more disturbing is the fact that consumers don't even know these threats exist. Most are working to survive supporting their families. And when they enter the marketplace they are looking to save money. Sadly, the money they save on plastics, common household items used in every home, may be the cause of something worse than a pandemic--the alteration and disruption of the centerpiece of human anatomy--a delicate and vulnerable endocrine system.
In children this contamination cannot be tolerated because it is persistent. At low doses, chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), also known as phthalates, may lead to a host of developmental problems. Even the recent debate surrounding autism has led to new studies which points to environmental chemicals as being a possible cause in the rise and incidence of developmental problems which links children to toxins--some invisible and life threatening.
"We don't give environmental exposure the attention it deserves," says Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at New York City's Mount Sinai Medical Center.
For years, Dr. Landrigan has been leading the children's environmental health movement. The National Children's Longitudinal Study is the largest long-term study of human health ever conducted in the United States. Mandated by Congress in 2000, the study is following 100,000 children from conception to age 21. By working with pregnant women and couples the study is gathering an unprecedented amount of data about how genes and the environment interact to affect childhood health. Examining a wide range of environmental factors-from air, water and house dust to what children eat to how often they see a doctor-the findings from this research will help develop prevention strategies for a wide-range of childhood diseases. According to the study, we learn that asthma has become the most chronic disease of childhood. In the last 15 years it has risen 160% for children under five. ADHD, developmental disorders are estimated to affect 17% of all school children-nearly one in every five. Autism rates in America continue to increase more than 20% a year. And childhood cancer rates jumped 21% from 1975-1998 and continue to rise about 1% in each year, making cancer the leading cause in death from disease in children under 15.
When I served as an Advisory Council Member (1997-2001) and attended meetings of the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) we authorized funding to establish key children's environmental health centers throughout America. The human genome project began after the successful mapping of a mouse--it was the beginning of unlocking the mysteries of gene/environment interactions which ultimately will lead to the prevention of many serious childhood diseases.
As science and medical research have already revealed, exposure to harmful chemicals can dramatically affect future generations. I fear that Earth Day is not worthy of any celebration--not until we choose to live better without chemicals. Especially the ones that are stealing our children's future.