Sperm Counts Falling, Babies Changing Gender, Cancers Proliferating
There can be few greater betrayals than for a Government to sacrifice the health of babies and small children to boost the profits of foreign firms. But that is exactly what Tony Blair and his ministers seem determined to do.
Confidential documents show that Britain is brokering a dirty deal in Brussels to exempt some of the most dangerous chemicals in widespread use from new European safety controls.
And what is worse, it is acting at the behest of the Bush administration, which wants to limit restrictions on America’s exports of highly toxic substances because of the potential threat to the profits of big chemical companies.
Among the chemicals are many of those which – as the Daily Mail reported yesterday (see article below) – have been found to poison babies in the womb, passing from mother to child through the umbilical cord.
Research at Groningen University in the Netherlands, commissioned by Greenpeace and WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund), found that every one of the newborn babies the research team monitored had a cocktail of at least 5 poisonous chemicals in their blood. Some had as many as 14.
The chemicals – found in such everyday objects as soap, cosmetics, clingfilm, tin cans, toothpaste, baby bottles, furniture, cleaning products and non-stick pans – have been linked to cancers, birth defects and genital abnormalities.
Many of them are the so-called ‘gender-bending’ chemicals which are increasingly being linked with a precipitous drop in sperm counts around the world. According to new research, at least one of these chemicals, phthalates, is already ‘feminizing’ baby boys.
Yet the secret documents demonstrate that Britain, which holds the presidency of the EU, is secretly putting together a deal that will exempt phthalates and other chemicals from controls outlined in a new directive.
The REACH directive – standing for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals – is designed to monitor the mind-boggling number of untested substances that both enrich and endanger our daily lives.
At the last count – some 20 years ago – more than 100,000 chemicals were in use in Europe; there will be many more now.
Many of them have brought us great benefits. Some are medicines which have been used to beat back deadly and disabling diseases. Others, in plastics, have brought us many useful consumer products. Others still have helped us to increase harvests and preserve food.
Yet we are staggeringly ignorant of the damage they may be doing to us. In fact, we have little or no safety data on over 85% of all the substances on the market.
Tests by WWF found that the blood of every adult and child in Britain contains a host of hazardous substances.
Children are usually more contaminated than adults. Babies and small children are most vulnerable.
As the new study reported by the Mail shows, mothers can pass as much as a third of the chemicals that have long built up in their bodies to their unborn children.
‘Worrying trends are believed to be partially linked to chemicals,’ says Margot Wallstrom, an EU vice-president.
She cites a 63% increase in cancers in France in 20 years and the fact that one in every seven European couples has infertility problems.
Gender-bending chemicals are causing the most concern.
In May, alarming research showed that baby boys born to mothers exposed to phthalates had smaller penises and displayed other signs of feminization of the genitals.
Phthalates, which are in widespread use to make plastic more pliable, were found in nearly 90% of babies tested for the study published this week.
Chemicals used as flame retardants, found in half the blood samples in the study, are believed to have similar properties as a banned group of chemicals known as PCBs (polychlorobiphenyls).
Research at Rotterdams’s Erasmus University suggested that boys born to mothers who’d been exposed to PCBs grew up wanting to play with dolls and tea-sets rather than with traditionally male children’s toys.
More generally, the gender benders are increasingly blamed for sperm counts dropping by half in the last half century, causing men now to produce proportionately only about a third as much sperm as hamsters.
Just three months ago, 125 of the leading scientists in the field called for urgent action on these chemicals, to establish the size of the risk and to protect us, if necessary, from it.
Yet it is these very chemicals that Britain is planning to exclude from the European laws.
It is the culmination of a disheartening story in which ministers seem to have succumbed to an unscrupulous campaign by the American government.
You might think that the United States has no business setting out to emasculate laws designed to protect British and European children – but that has not deterred President Bush, who is living up to his nickname ‘The Toxic Texan’.
For the past three years, the Bush administration has been mounting an intensive campaign to weaken the REACH directive (whic+h aims to get companies to carry out, and report on, safety tests on their chemicals and impose controls on the most dangerous ones).
According to documents I have seen, two years ago, Colin Powell, the then Secretary of State, circulated around US embassies instructions to lobby against the directive because ‘US exports in most industrial sectors – totaling tens of billions of dollars – could be impacted’.
Britain’s reaction to this was shameful – and unsurprising. After initially backing the directive, it switched to denouncing it as ‘disastrously wrong’.
Worse, Tony Blair succeeded in greatly weakening its provisions by writing a joint letter to the EU with President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, expressing ‘concern’ and calling for ‘substantial changes’.
Now, Britain has drawn up a new version of the REACH directive – to be put before the other EU governments this autumn – which exempts gender-bending chemicals from the controls unless there is ‘scientific evidence of serious effects to humans or the environment’.
Scientists say that if this provision is approved, it means that these chemicals could only be controlled after they had done grave damage to people and wildlife, making a mockery of the directive.
Dr. Andreas Kortenkamp, of London University’s Centre for Toxicology, says that ‘very few, if any’ gender-bending chemicals would be regulated under the British plan.
While Professor John Sumpter of Brunel University says: ‘I would want action to be taken if there was good evidence that serious effects were likely, even if they had not been unequivocally proved.’
Britain says it is trying to protect jobs – and indeed chemical companies employ more than 1.7 million people across Europe.
But studies show that the directive’s provisions would cost these companies less than 0.06% of their turnover and save over £30 billion in healthcare costs by reducing disease over the next 30 years.
It is long past time that Tony Blair started prioritizing the health of the people of this country over the interests of George W. Bush’s fat-cat friends.
He should make a start by putting control of gender-bending chemicals back into the directive.