Philip and Alice Shabecoff: Environmental Toxins and Our Children
November 10, 2010
Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill by Philip and Alice Shabecoff is an amazingly comprehensive work on the subject of environmental toxins. It details specific chemical, heavy metal and radioactive pollutions, diseases that run parallel to them, and who is responsible. It also makes an impassioned plea for changes needed in our system to create a safer world in which our children can grow up.
How the book came to be is an illustration of the way that conscience can lead someone to profound and influencing actions.
On the Trail of the Truth
For many years, Philip Shabecoff has been driven to help save the environment. As a New York Times reporter for 32 years, he strove to cover important aspects of the environment—and was fought most of the way by editors who considered topics such as labor, the national economy and the White House more of a priority. Inspired by the very first Earth Day in 1970, Philip covered environmental issues for the last 14 years of his career with the New York Times.
Upon his retirement, he founded Greenwire, a daily online digest of environmental news, which is still going strong today. He also began his career as an environmental author and has recently released his fourth book, co-written with his wife, Alice, a freelance journalist and former executive director of the National Consumers League.
Poisoned for Profit came about as an observation made in the couple’s very own day-to-day life. “When our grandchildren were being born, we happened to notice a high rate of disease around their neighborhood,” Alice Shabecoff told Organic Connections.
“A quarter of the male kids in the neighborhood of one of our grandsons alone had some sort of neurological behavioral problem,” Philip said. “So we started looking into it. We saw that it wasn’t just neurological problems but also a huge increase in asthma cases, in birth defects, and certain types of cancers were rising as well. I was an environmental reporter for many years and I had known that there was an increase in a number of chemicals being produced by industry and put into the environment by commerce. When we began looking deeper into it, we saw what to us was an inescapable correlation between the tremendous expansion of toxic substances in the environment—chemicals, metals and radioactive pollution—and the rising number of sick children. When we came across startling data that one of every three American kids today has some sort of chronic illness, we decided we’d better really look into this in depth. And that’s how we came to do the book.”
Their research led to some shocking revelations. Of America’s 73 million children, almost 21 million—nearly 1 out of 3—suffer from one chronic disease or another: 58,000 are threatened by cancer; nearly 2.5 million live with disfiguring or debilitating birth defects; 310,000 are poisoned by lead; approximately 6 million suffer from asthma; and 12 million have some form of developmental disorder, from autism to ADHD and serious learning disabilities.
These epidemic statistics can be viewed alongside the massive toxification of our environment. According to Dr. David Wallinga, director of the Food and Health Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, “We’ve created a society with around 80,000 industrial chemicals, most of which have not been tested for safety. Many of those chemicals end up in the food chain one way or another, through drinking water or because they are intentionally put into food packaging or because they are pollutants that accumulate up the food chain. Being at the top of the food chain, we often get the most exposure to these pollutants.
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