The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1121: How Can We Protect Children from Environmental Poisons?

Babies and young children are especially vulnerable to harm from environmental poisons. How can we better protect them for a healthier future?
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How Can We Protect Children from Environmental Poisons?

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Since the middle of the last century, more than 85,000 chemicals have been developed and used. In many cases, they persist in the environment long after their immediate utility has vanished. The World Health Organization attributes more than one-third of childhood mortality to environmental causes. Are environmental poisons contributing to the troublesome rise in childhood diseases such as asthma, attention difficulties or autism? What environmental exposures should pregnant women try to avoid?

Children and Environmental Poisons:

Because they are still developing, young children are more vulnerable to chemicals that may interfere with growth. How does early, low-dose exposure to compounds such as lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxins harm the developing brain? Rates of asthma have tripled since the 1970s. Are environmental toxins to blame?

An Epidemic of Lead Exposure:

The terrible situation in Flint, Michigan, grabbed headlines, and rightly so. But Flint is not the only community where children may be unknowingly exposed to lead. And there is no level of lead exposure considered safe for youngsters. Where is lead coming from, what does it do to children, and how can we protect them? Doing so may require political will. The result could be healthier, smarter kids.

Pesticides and Herbicides:

Pesticides (such as chlorpyrifos) and herbicides (such as glyphosate) may be hard to avoid. What are the hazards? Certain foods, such as peaches, pears, raspberries and strawberries, are more likely to contain toxic residues. Learn how to minimize your family’s exposure to these compounds and to others that may disrupt hormonal balance. Find out why the long-term consequences of early exposure make a compelling case for protecting the most vulnerable.

The websites Dr. Landrigan mentioned include for information on pesticide contamination. To learn more about mercury in fish, check out the websites, (Natural Resources Defense Council) or the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site and app.

This Week’s Guest:

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan is a pediatrician, epidemiologist and Dean for Global Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. His recent book, co-authored with Mary Landrigan, is Children and Environmental Toxins: What Everyone Needs to Know.

His website is

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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My son and his family moved to Portland, OR. Within the 1st month they were sick from the mold. The 5 year-old is recovering. What can we do about mold?
Thank you so much.

I really enjoyed this program, but PLEASE stop using the phrase “pesticides and herbicides.” Herbicides ARE pesticides! Pesticides are not just insecticides–they are also herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, avicides, etc. etc. etc.
Thanks and keep up the good work!

What about the plastics, perfumes, and those teeny little absorbent granules in disposable diapers? Has anyone studied what chemical changes those items go through when they are soaked in urine? At body temperature, not room temp! Almost every baby in America is exposed to that stuff for YEARS, unless their parents are using cloth diapers. Makes me wonder.

You left out fluoride. You talked about the resistance to accepting the damage that lead does to children’s brains, but aren’t you doing the same thing with fluoride? EPA is now being sued by a coalition of public health organizations to force the removal of lead from our drinking water, precisely because of the very strong evidence linking it to reduced IQs in children. When will this cover-up end? When the lawsuit is successful? For more info, check out

I hope the podcast covers scented personal care, cleaning and laundry products. Fragrances tested in the 1990s by the EPA all had Toluene in them (I’m sure it’s still the same), a known carcinogenic (and 95% of the ingredients in the fragrances they tested were found to be petrochemical derivatives). When people wear (and absorb) or breathe in synthetic fragrances 24/7/365, I do wonder which cancer they or their kids might get first, and your organs have to work harder to detox all those synthetic chemicals.

Fragrance is the new second-hand smoke type issue. Many concerned individuals are becoming interested in avoiding pesticides in their food, water and air (which is a good thing to avoid), but they don’t also consider reducing or eliminating fragrance derivatives in their personal care, laundry and cleaning products. You don’t always have control over what you are exposed to in public, but you may have a choice in your home, car, (at times) at work and what you put on your or your child’s body. Fragrance free is healthier for you and others around you.

It was an ironic juxtaposition when Dr. Landrigan was warning your listeners to beware of skin creams and the pause for an ad was for Udder Cream. Whom should we believe — Dr. Landrigan who says that skin creams are often hazardous or the Graedens who urge us to use Udder Cream? Perhaps the Graedens will address this apparently conflicting advice.

Looking forward to your podcast to hear some answers to this problem of poisons! I try to limit chemicals and pesticides at home but how can we reduce the toxic burden they are exposed to in school? What governing agency can bring a change to the approved chemicals in school?

I have signed up to be a part of School Health Advisory Committee and looking forward to finding answers and bringing some change. Thank you so much for initiating this dreaded topic! Best, Niti.

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