Common chemical threatens thyroids and IQ’s

It’s everywhere. And I really do mean EVERYWHERE.

It’s in you, it’s in me, and it’s in everyone you know, or have ever known, for that matter. It affects the thyroid, a gland that helps regulate our hormones, those compounds that are responsible for controlling and regulating just about every single cell and organ in our bodies.

And yet very few of us have ever even heard of this creepy, pervasive chemical.

Perchlorate is nothing new. It’s a naturally occurring chemical. Or I should say it was naturally occurring until someone had the bright idea that we should start manufacturing massive quantities of it ourselves. And that decision could have dire long-term health consequences for all of us.

Perchlorate is used in the production of missiles, fireworks, explosives, flares and rocket fuel, and it’s found in some fertilizers and bleaches, as well. The chemical’s frequent use by the military, defense contracting industry, and aerospace programs has spread it far and wide, and perchlorate has made its way into ground water and soil.

From there it headed straight up the food chain from plants, to animals and, ultimately, to us. It’s in our food supply, and it has even found its way into some of our public drinking water. And, unfortunately, this time it looks like “going organic” isn’t even going to be able to help us out of this mess.

In a study published in 2005 in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology researchers found perchlorate in 16 percent of conventionally produced lettuces and leafy greens they checked. But even more disturbing, they found the chemical in 32 percent of the organically grown greens they tested!

Perchlorate disrupts thyroid function

So what’s the Environmental Protection Agency and the FDA got to say about this? Essentially, “Don’t worry.” The EPA says the amount of perchlorate we’re being exposed to “is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime.”

Gee, why don’t I feel comforted?

Maybe it’s because I know what this chemical could be doing to us.

Perchlorate disrupts your thyroid’s ability to produce the chemicals that you (and your children) need for normal growth and development. The chemical interferes with iodide uptake, potentially leaving your thyroid unable to produce enough thyroid hormone. And that means your metabolism might be knocked out of whack, and your infant’s central nervous system may not develop normally.

Experts say perchlorate is likely already monkeying with our endocrine systems, and producing reproductive problems to boot. Oh, and did I mention that even the EPA classifies it as a “likely human carcinogen”?

I don’t know about you, but I’d say perchlorate sounds an awful lot like something we SHOULD be worried about.

And I’m betting a team of researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and Cardiff University would likely agree with me. They recently published a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that found that perchlorate may indeed be harming the health of moms and their babies.

Researchers found below average IQ’s

A group of 487 moms with underactive thyroid glands, and their children, were studied.  When the researchers dug into the data they uncovered a shocking fact. The children of the 50 moms with the highest levels of perchlorate in their bodies had below average IQ levels when compared to other children.

The chemical is likely linked to the underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) in the moms, and now it appears that perchlorate may also be affecting the thyroid function of their babies as well. And an undetected underactive thyroid in an infant is a serious problem. It can lead to permanent side effects including severely affecting the child’s intellectual abilities, as well as causing growth and heart problems.

And although this study only focused on moms and their babies, it’s a safe bet that this chemical is doing a number on men’s thyroids, too.

The EPA claims that it has decided to regulate perchlorate in drinking water, but in the same breath it says that this decision “"...does not in itself impose any requirements on public water systems."

But hey, no worries, they assure us that they’re thinking real hard about it, and they will one day develop national regulation. Their press release about that regulation is dated 02/02/2011. So you’ll pardon me if I don’t hold my breath while we wait.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to limit your exposure to this chemical. If you happen to live in Massachusetts or California you’re a step ahead of the game. Both states have enacted their own drinking water standard for perchlorate.

But if you’re not lucky enough to live in one of those states it’s time to start making some noise and demanding the changes needed to get perchlorate out of our food and water. Our friends over at the Environmental Working Group have some great advice on just how to do that, including talking points you can use when calling your local water provider and your US Senators and Representatives in DC.