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Leading pediatrician lends advice on toxic chemicals

Posted on February 7, 2013

Alan Greene MD Interview with Dr. Alan Greene, MD

Dr. Alan Greene is a practicing pediatrician, founder of the award winning health and parenting site, author of Raising Baby Green and frequent guest on shows such as Dr. Oz.

A recent study found the majority of health care providers fail to give pregant women advice on toxic chemical risks during pregancy. I thought it would be fun to sit down with Dr. Greene to get his take on the subject and seek his advice for those who are hoping to become parents one day, are currently parents or anywhere in between!

Did your physician counsel you on environmental health risks? Let us know in the comments below! Lindsay Dahl, Deputy Director

1.) Recent news headlines show that the majority of physicians fail to warn pregnant women about environmental health threats during pregnancy. Do you feel the medical community can do more to counsel patients on the importance of nutrition, avoiding toxic chemicals? 

Even without definitive evidence linking specific exposures to fetal development, we do know that illnesses arise from interplay between our genes and the environment. When you look at all the conditions on the rise in kids – problems such as asthma, ADHD, childhood cancers, diabetes – you can’t blame our genes. These conditions have increased so rapidly in the last 30 years that we know the environment is the problem, which means that the environment also holds the answers.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, a 2011 study found that the majority of pregnant women in America have industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides already present at the moment of birth – in the umbilical cord blood. This is tangible evidence that we should be taking every precaution we can to avoid risky chemical exposures. The developing fetus is uniquely vulnerable and impacts during this phase of rapid development can potentially be irreversible and life-altering.

Counseling pregnant moms on these risks and simple ways to limit exposures is a vital component of reversing the upward trending prevalence of environmentally induced diseases.

Our time reminds me of the era when germs were first discovered – invisible, impossibly small organisms that had already been causing human disease. Their detection paved the way for great improvements in health. We are now able to identify toxic chemicals in our bodies and environment, even at very low levels, which may be contributing to human disease. I’m hopeful that this will pave the way for great improvements in reducing the chronic disease burden in America.

2) If women feel like they're not getting the information they need from their physicians on environmental health exposures, what are some good resources for them to turn to?

It’s difficult to find sources that answer these complicated questions both accurately and understandably, but they’re out there. Here are a few I recommend: (My website provides extensive advice from a trusted pediatrician)

My book, Raising Baby Green

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (Your member organizations include major leaders in the field!)

EcoMom Alliance

Healthy Child Healthy World

3) We know that toxic chemical exposures that happen to men and women before they become pregnant can impact the health of their future children. What advice do you have for younger men and women?

It’s never too soon (or too late) to start living healthier and reducing your exposure to risky chemicals. Even if having a baby is the last thing on your mind, you’ll be doing a world of good for yourself (and your future self) by doing your best to limit exposures. And, you don’t have to make any massive lifestyle changes - just take it one step at a time. Start with one thing that works for you and once that becomes a habit, choose another.

Some of the simplest steps people can take are opening windows every day to reduce indoor air contamination, taking off your shoes to reduce tracking pesticides and lead dust indoors, and choosing safer products.

On that final note, start thinking beyond “eco-friendly” because there’s really no distinction. Environmental chemicals aren’t just polluting air, soil, and water “out there” somewhere; they are polluting the innermost sanctum of the womb. We are part of the environment.

All products and their manufacture have environmental consequences. We make eco-choices every time we buy. The question is whether we are selecting better environmental impact or worse environmental impact. Our choices add up. And matter.

4) As a pediatrician, how important do you think it is for the government to ensure chemicals are safe before they end up on the market, in our homes and bodies?  

It’s absolutely imperative. Our current chemical regulatory system, TSCA, was created back in the 1970s and it’s woefully outdated, In fact, I like to say it’s as ridiculous and out-of-date as polyester leisure suits. Essentially, chemicals are innocent until proven guilty and even then, our regulatory bodies are extremely limited in their capacity and authority to do anything. And, you know who’s paying the price? Our children.

We know for a fact that public policy changes your body. A study released a few years ago examined the levels of chemicals in pregnant women’s bodies. One of the most striking aspects of this study was that the toxic chemical profile was different in pregnant women living in different states, varying with the chemical regulations there. This makes sense. We already knew on a national level that when lead was removed from gasoline by public policy, the lead levels in our children plummeted.

Public policy to better regulate chemicals is intensely personal. The issues are often complex, but the results can change our bodies. Pay attention to these issues, and let your voice be heard because it’s time to stop using kids as the canaries in the coal mine.

To get involved I encourage you can take action here.

To follow Dr. Greene on Twitter: @DrGreene and @WhiteOutNow


Thanks a lot for imparting your thoughts on this matter. Pediatrician can help a lot when it comes to your child's health. Parents can be well-guided and taught about the ways to secure their children.

Posted by: Danica | Jun 19, 2013 1:39:02 AM

I like this article as it addresses the belief that any uncalled for intervention on the part of parents might damage the economic importance of the chemical industry. This belief persists despite of it being widely known that consumer involvement in health related decisions improves health outcomes and saves billions of dollars. Avoiding contact with and use of toxic synthetic herbicides while pregnant, for example, would prevent a huge amount of unnecessary human ill-health. Great to see a call for greater engagement from health professionals too, as doctors can lead the way by demonstrating a willingness to engage and help make chemical related public policy issues more 'user friendly'.

Posted by: David Low | Feb 10, 2013 11:15:56 AM

No, most of us received little to no help from the medical community about this aspect of prenatal health. Wouldn't it be wonderful if modern environmental science were shared as mainstream in all doctors' offices?

Posted by: Anne | Feb 8, 2013 8:09:01 AM

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