Political conservatives profess righteous indignation about the financial debt we are leaving to our children. Many liberals are more concerned about leaving our children a crippling "climate debt" and/or an "ecological debt." The recent catastrophic underwater oil volcano, courtesy of British Petroleum, record breaking heat, wild fires, drought, crop failures, devastating flooding and mudslides in numerous countries throughout the world justify the worry.
As legitimate as these debt fears are, physicians who are paying attention to research on environmental toxins are becoming increasingly concerned that future generations are facing a "chromosome debt" that may pose an even greater threat to their health and quality of life. To the extent we contaminate our environment, we contaminate the very building blocks of life itself, our DNA. A recent special investigative report by CNN has finally given a nationwide voice to these concerns.
Hundreds of new medical studies have rapidly expanded our understanding of how much the overall human disease burden is caused by environmental contamination. Physicians who specialize in diseases like diabetes and thyroid problems are called endocrinologists and their scientific society is called The Endocrine Society. Last year, they issued a special scientific statement on the danger of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our environment.
In May, the American Heart Association released an update on air pollution's affect on cardiovascular disease and then the President's Cancer Panel just published a report on the importance of our environment in triggering malignancies. All these publications highlight burgeoning research with a recurring theme - a little bit of pollution goes a long way, especially when it's attached to your chromosomes.
Virtually every human and all wildlife, even those remote from industrialized society, are now contaminated with hundreds of chemicals and heavy metals - the end result of modern civilization and the careless production, consumption and discarding of food, energy, and manufactured goods. Eighty-three thousand different chemicals are now being released into our environment, and many of them find their way into the cells of all living things.
Sources of contaminants include pesticide residues in food, chemicals leaching from packaging, plastics, personal care products, radiation, and air and water pollution. The air inside the average home harbors more than 400 different chemicals, some originating from air pollution in the community and others from household products. Common fruits and vegetables often contain residues of 60 or more different pesticides.
Human babies are now born pre-polluted, infiltrated virtually from the moment of conception, or even pre-conception, by hundreds of chemicals capable of wreaking havoc even at infinitesimally low levels of exposure. The Endocrine Society states, "Any level of exposure at all may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window." Evidence suggests this can also lead to cancer, birth defects, diminished intellectual capacity, behavior disturbances and numerous chronic diseases later in life. Even the obesity epidemic appears to be in part related to chemical exposures during early development.
World wide fertility rates and viable male sperm counts are dropping. The ratio of baby boys born compared to baby girls is decreasing, and we are now seeing in humans what we have observed in wildlife: physical feminization of baby boys, probably secondary to estrogen mimicking chemicals that alter sexual organ development. Ironically, some fertility experts consider this trend as much a threat to the survival of mankind as global warming.
Some of these toxins precipitate diseases by creating molecular attachments to genes changing their behavior or "epigenetics." Epigenetic changes in human blood cells are detectable within two hours after exposure to the smallest particles of air pollution: particles that could have been released into the atmosphere months ago and thousands of miles away. These epigenetic alterations can be passed on to subsequent generations, jeopardizing their health as well. Just like the CO2 we are emitting into the atmosphere today will change the climate for all future generations, the chromosomal aberrations we are passing on is changing who human beings are and will be for generations to come.
The leaking oil in the Gulf will destroy plant and animal life wherever it goes. Think of the oceans as the entire human gene pool and the oil spill in the Gulf as a river of environmental contaminants. The chromosomal gateway through which all future generations must pass is under assault from pollution, and that spill is spreading throughout humanity itself.