The Kids Are Not Alright

Cancer Clusters, Lead Poisoning, & Microplastics In Children Are Not OK

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially when it comes to our kids. Am I surprised? No. Outraged? Yes.

First, let’s start with some legislation.

When my friend Trevor Schaefer from Boise, Idaho, survived a highly malignant form of brain cancer at just 13 years old, he vowed to fight for other kids like him dealing with cancer, and he did.

In 2013, I joined Trevor on Capitol Hill to testify for a bill named after him that would require the federal government to document and track childhood and adult cancer clusters, not just in Idaho but also across the country.

As I said then and still believe, “there are simply too many cancers in this country and not enough answers.”

When it comes to a cancer, it’s easy to blame genetics or lifestyle for some cases, but what about children? Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children in our country. Young kids don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or work stressful jobs.

We do know that children can be more vulnerable to chemical toxins than adults because they have both faster metabolisms and less mature immune systems, but we need more research to understand the full picture.

The Strengthening Protections for Children and Communities from Disease Clusters Act, also known as “Trevor’s Law,” was a bipartisan bill passed in 2016 as part of a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform bill. It was created to help communities determine a connection between cancer clusters, birth defects, and other diseases, and contaminants in the surrounding environment.

And it made sense. The federal government is best positioned to help identify and respond to disease clusters because federal agencies have the research, response, and enforcement capacity that states and localities often don’t.

But here we five years later, nearing the end of 2021, and we’ve had no action on this law that’s already on the books. No new guidelines have been issues and no investigations of cancer clusters have occurred, despite millions of dollars allocated.

Talk about a government shutdown. When laws get passed and nothing changes, you have to wonder what’s really going on in D.C.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a NBC News story, said that funds have been used to gather more information on how best to update their guidelines and develop tools and resources for public health agencies to use when conducting investigations.

“Many of these cancers could have been prevented,” Trevor told NBC News. “How many more children have to suffer before our government follows their own law?”

This law could have helped people like Susan Wind, a mom and environmental advocate, who we talked to back in August. You can listen here.

Her daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 16, along with many other children in that area of just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina . Toxic coal ash particles laden with hazardous heavy metals, including chromium-6, lead, arsenic, mercury, and more have been found in the soil.

Susan raised money independently to fund those studies and try to understand why so many young people in her area were sick. Sounds exactly like the kind of work Trevor’s law was designed for.

She texted me last week when she was on a Zoom panel with the CDC and ATSDR regarding cancer clusters. They were asking for her input, and I hope they listen. The government needs to get with the program.

More Bad News On Lead & Children

Most American children have been exposed to lead, despite decades of working to reduce lead poisoning, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Let’s remember, lead is a known neurotoxin that causes irreversible health effects in children, including lower IQ.

“No safe level of lead exposure in children has been identified,” according to the CDC.

Yet, lead is still found in older homes (usually in chipping paint) and water pipes. Hi, infrastructure bill… we are still waiting for the funds to replace those pipes.

More than half of U.S. children under the age of six have detectable levels of lead in their blood, according to the new study from researchers at Quest Diagnostics and Boston Children’s Hospital

Their data is based on lab tests from more than 1 million children under age 6 living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia who had lead blood testing during October 2018 to February 2020.

One of the biggest findings in the study was the disparities in where children lived.

Among children living in zip codes with the highest levels of poverty, about 60 percent had detectable blood lead level (BLL), compared to less than 40 percent of those in areas with the lowest levels of poverty.

Those children in areas with the highest levels of poverty were nearly 2.5 times as likely to have elevated BLLs than children in areas with the lowest levels of poverty.

Kids living in areas with the highest levels of pre-1950s housing had a nearly four-fold higher risk of elevated BLL than those with the lowest levels.

“Our analysis finds that kids in areas with the highest rates of poverty are also the most at risk, highlighting the critical role of social disparities in health,” said study co-author Dr. Harvey W. Kaufman, senior medical director for Quest Diagnostics. “Our study is a cautionary tale of the enormous challenge of remediating environments following contamination with toxins dangerous to human health.”

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell spoke to MSNBC last week about the importance of the now-stalled infrastructure bill saying, “We have to get the lead out of the water pipelines in this country!”

You can watch more below:

Ultimately blood lead levels have been dropping in children, but lead exposure is still ever-present and disproportionately affecting those living in poverty. We need to continue advocating for strong regulations so that no child is unknowingly exposed to lead.

For more resources and to join this important advocacy, check out the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning.

Babies Full of Plastic

A much smaller study, but equally terrifying, has found that babies have 15 times more microplastics in their bodies than adults.

Researchers from New York University School of Medicine looked for two common types of microplastics, known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polycarbonate (PC) in stool samples.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, many are used in cosmetics, biotech, carpeting, and drug capsules. They can also form when plastic objects get broken down such as washing synthetic clothes or chewing on plastic toys.

The research team said that babies may consume more of these plastics when crawling on carpets that contain microplastics.

“In addition, studies have shown that infant formula prepared in PP bottles can release millions of MPs, and many processed baby foods are packaged in plastic containers that constitute another source of exposure in one-year-old infants,” according to the study.

While there’s not a ton of research on the effects of plastics on the body, some studies show ingestion of microplastics can lead to increased risk of cancer, lung cell viability, among other harmful effects.

You can also watch below Dr. Shanna Swan (we have a bonus convo with her here) talk about how plastics affect our hormones.

For any scientists and policy folks reading this article, it looks like there’s a huge opportunity to study plastics more and help get the plastics out of babies’ bodies.

How many more studies do we need to show us the toxins building up in our children? What future are we leaving them?

Did You See PFAS on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver?

ICYMI, you can watch the clip above, which now has more than two million views.

PFAS have been a hot topic here at The Brockovich Report, and for good reason. These toxic “forever chemicals” have been poisoning us for decades, while the corporations who manufactured them, like DuPont and 3M, made billions.

Shout out to my friend Rob Bilott, whose brilliant book Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty Year Battle Against Dupont was featured in the segment. You can listen to my conversation with him here.

While it’s nice to see mainstream coverage, PFAS chemicals are not a laughing matter. The Belmont, Michigan-based family featured on the show talked about their 3-year-old son Jack testing positive for extremely high PFAS levels, 484,000 parts-per-trillion, in his blood serum. WHAT?!?

This family is one of millions who have been unknowingly exposed to the chemicals in drinking water. In Michigan alone, the drinking water for nearly 2 million residents has some level of PFAS.

Have concerns about PFAS? You can see what’s been found in your town at Environmental Working Group’s interactive map here.

With lack of real action from the U.S. EPA, many states have created task forces and stricter regulations than the national, unenforceable standards of 70 ppt for two PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, in drinking water.

I urge everyone to work locally to raise hell about these chemicals or join the efforts of those at the National PFAS Contamination Coalition.

Are you concerned about our kids? Let me know in the comments below!