FROM AUTHOR ALICE SHABECOFF: What’s really behind the increase in autism rates.

What’s really behind the increase in autism rates.
Alice Shabecoff

The just-released data on autism shows a count of 1 in 88 children, up from a rate of 1 in 110 three years ago and one in 150 five years ago. With each change, the response remains the same: Oh, that’s because of better detection and broader definitions.

How, then, do we account for the sharp increase in childhood asthma -- 15.7 percent higher today than 10 years ago? Or an increase of the same magnitude in preterm births? Or the indisputable fact that childhood cancer has climbed an inexorable 1 percent, year after year, over the past 30 years? As has Down syndrome. And among rarer illnesses, too, the rates keep going up and up – from the increase in malformations of the penis among newborn boys, to the doubling in a generation of endometriosis, a deformity of the uterus, among girls.

There is no way that these wildly different childhood illnesses can be chalked up to -- and written off as -- an increase in detection and/or diagnosis.

Maybe instead we should look at these ever-escalating statistics as real numbers. Then we can ask what these childhood illnesses have in common.

There’s an answer out there, but it seems everyone is doing his best to run away from it.

Our children have become sick because they were among the vulnerable harmed by toxins, either in the womb or in their early childhood years. And our children are becoming sick in ever greater rates because year after year after year the load of toxins has increased.

Not to overdo the statistics, here are just a few: The U.S. makes or imports 27 trillion pounds of chemicals a year, up from 200 billion in 1980. We use roughly 4.5 billion pounds of pesticides a year, compared with 400 million pounds in the 1960s. Not one newborn American baby has been tested without finding hundreds of chemicals in her umbilical cord. And that’s without mentioning the effects of nuclear pollutants.

The National Academy of Sciences has reported that half of all pregnancies will end either in fetal death or in a less than healthy child. A massive body of recent science describes how pollutants work their harm.

We need to take our collective heads out of the sand and face the reality behind the numbers: Our children are sick from preventable causes, not from better diagnoses.

Alice Shabecoff is the coauthor of Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill