Over the past several decades we have seen an increase in the diagnosis of children with developmental disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control reports that one in every six children today are diagnosed with a developmental disability – from hearing loss to learning disabilities. In particular, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder has also dramatically risen and is a growing concern for families in Northern Virginia, a number of which I have talked with personally. Currently, one out of every 110 children born in the U.S. are diagnosed with this disorder and an even more alarming one out of every 59 boys have it.
This skyrocketing number of cases raises serious questions about whether something is seriously wrong with our environment. Many studies point to correlations between suspected chemicals and the delicate human endocrine system, which includes the thyroid, pancreas, and hypothalamus in your brain, all of which work to produce and manage the hormones that regulate the body’s growth and development, metabolism, and sexual development and function. From regulating body temperature to our sleep cycle, this critical system controls many of the non-immediate reactions in our bodies. Even small changes to this system can dramatically affect a person’s well-being.
There is significant evidence that the disturbing increase in the number of disorders of the human endocrine system is seriously undermining the nation’s health. It is vital that we further explore this relationship, to understand the interaction between endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and the significant rise in childhood disabilities.
To combat this problem, I am teaming with Senator John Kerry to introduce legislation, the Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Exposure Elimination Act of 2011 (EDCEEA), that will expand research and review on the most suspect of the more than 80,000 EDCs that appear in many household products.
The bill will let science, not politics, determine what effect these chemicals may be having on our children by establishing an expert panel to review research on EDCs and make recommendations to government agencies regarding their usage.
Our legislation has three basic functions: 1) to facilitate additional research into what chemicals negatively impact the human endocrine system, 2) to improve methods of reducing exposure to chemicals that are found to present health risks, and 3) to create a training program in the fields of endocrine disruption research.
This idea is not revolutionary. In 1996, Congress recognized the need to study endocrine disruptors when it directed the Environmental Protection Agency to develop an endocrine disruption screening program as part of the Food Quality Protection Act. Unfortunately, for various reasons — many political — the program has been plagued by delays.
The EDCEEA legislation provides a much needed avenue to expedite the study and classification of harmful chemicals which are showing up in our environment at disturbing levels, yet are found in many of the products we use in our everyday lives, from laundry detergent to plastic bottles.
We learned just a few years ago that right in our own backyard in the Potomac River, 100 percent of the male bass population have both female and male reproductive organs. Scientists believe this anomaly is the result of EDCs in the river. It’s a discovery that should serve as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” regarding the threat these chemicals pose and the need to act swiftly to mitigate their impact. In the weeks and months ahead, I will continue working to raise awareness on the need for more research into these potentially harmful chemicals, and for consideration of this important legislation.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.