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Minnesota Legislature

Toxic chemicals a 'silent epidemic'

Published (2/15/2008)
By Nick Busse
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Although they have never breathed polluted air, drank contaminated water or eaten toxic foods, the average unborn baby may have literally hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals in their body.

That was the message of Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, to members of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division at a joint meeting Feb. 11. No action was taken.

“We don’t want (children) to come into the world pre-polluted, and unfortunately that’s not the case,” Cook said.

Calling the proliferation of toxic chemicals in the environment a “silent pandemic,” Cook cited a recent study that found an average of roughly 200 industrial byproducts, pesticides and other substances present in a random sampling of 10 unborn American children.

Cook said that some of the chemicals found had been banned more than 30 years ago, but had apparently remained in the mothers’ bodies and been passed on to the children.

According to Cook, the health effects of many of the chemicals in question are unknown; however, some of them have been linked to rising incidences of leukemia, brain cancer, birth defects and other serious conditions. He called for new government regulations on industrial and agricultural chemicals at both the state and federal levels.

David Wallinga, food and health director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said that many chemical pollutants can cause developmental disabilities in children that place an enormous burden on society in the form of increased special education and health care costs, among others.

Rep. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) said the state should consider funding more research on the subject, but also suggested that federal action might be more effective in regulating the chemicals.

Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) seeking to remind his fellow lawmakers that agricultural chemicals have practical and commercial benefits, asked rhetorically, “What are the reasons we have farm chemicals, and what good do they do mankind?”

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