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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Toxic Childhood

Aired August 7, 2010 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our children enter the world with more than 200 chemicals in their bodies. They are born pre-polluted.

What impact is this toxic mix having on the health of our kids?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates. CNN's TOXIC CHILDHOOD starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life today is so much more pleasant. Yes, it's good to be alive today.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 1947, any town USA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No doubt you've heard of DDT, death propulsion, the atom bomb. In short, the better known wonders of the modern world.

GUPTA (on camera): I'm here to look at the latest wonder product. The pesticide DDT.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a handful of concentrated death.

GUPTA (voice-over): Hmm. That sounds dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this new insect destroyer contains a lot of DDT. Not just a little. Its DDT content is even higher than government specifications.

GUPTA: But it's nothing to worry about, right? After all, they said it was safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Used right, it is absolutely harmless to humans and animals.

GUPTA: You could use it anywhere in the home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's perfect for ridding Fido of those unwelcome house guests.

GUPTA: It's even safe around children.

(On camera): A generation of new pesticides -- liquids, powders, sprays -- everywhere. Look. We all know how this turned out. The promise of safety was completely untrue.

And good evening. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. That film clip was a 1947 version of an infomercial. It was actually shown in department stores to try and sell the new pest killer DDT.

They did seem so naive back then about the dangers, but you know what? There is evidence that we're starting to repeat the same pattern, using chemicals that we are told are safe today only to find out that they're not.

So tonight in TOXIC CHILDHOOD, we ask questions. How are common chemicals impacting the health of our children and what can we do to minimize the risks for our kids?

As reporter, a doctor, most importantly as a father of three, I believe it's time for some real answers. So we begin tonight with the very latest science that reveals a broad mix of chemicals now entering our children's bodies before they're even born.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): Here in the womb, enveloped in darkness and warmth, a baby's life begins in earnest. It is a sacred space, pristine, insulated. More than nine months of safe refuge from the world outside.

(On camera): Imagine a baby sort of nice and safe and tucked away in the womb, impervious to all the assaults that occur on the body. You say not so fast?

DR. FREDERICA PERERA, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA MAILMAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Not so fast. The placenta is doing its work as well as it can, but it is not a perfect barrier. And many chemicals do pass relatively easily across the placenta.

GUPTA (voice-over): Chemicals? In here?

Babies are born every day with not one, not two, but hundreds of toxic substances. In a study by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, an average of 232 chemicals were measured in the cord blood of 10 babies born late last year.

Now there's no science yet that demonstrates conclusive cause and effect between these mix of toxins our children are born with and particular health problems. But many leading pediatricians believe it's precisely what we do not know that makes this so troubling.

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, MOUNT SINAI CHILDREN'S ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CENTER: Eighty percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country, we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, The other developing organs. It's a -- it's really a terrible mess we've gotten ourselves into. GUPTA: The list of chemicals measured in cord blood is -- well, long.

PBDEs, flame retardants in computers, televisions, mattresses, furniture. BPA in food cans, bottle tops, hard plastics. PFCs, water repellants, used to make nonstick products, food packaging, carpeting, furniture. Phthalates, found in a wide array of products for children's toys to cosmetics.

But how do they make their way from out here to in here? The answer may be inside this backpack. I began investigating two years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the air you're breathing in will be filtered in through this device. All right. Let's adjust that.

PERERA: It's not a perfect model for the mom, but it is a good indication of what's in the air that women are breathing and what could potentially be transferred to the fetus.

GUPTA: Dr. Frederica Perera is 12 years into a landmark study at Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health. Following hundreds of pregnant women as they navigate these city streets.

Measuring their exposure to toxic substances. Vehicle emissions. Pesticides. Second-hand smoke. Each one wears a backpack with a tube that acts like a lung, sucking in the same air that they're breathing.

What researchers found was stunning.

PERERA: It surprised me when we analyzed the air samples and found that 100 percent of them had detectable levels of at least one pesticide and the air pollutants that we were interested in, every single one.

GUPTA: A hundred percent had pesticides. Pollutants that scientists were testing for, eventually making their way from mom into the womb.

Now it'd be one thing if these chemicals were innocuous. But studies in both animals and humans suggest they may not be.

PERERA: These chemicals can have affects on brain development.

GUPTA: All of that forces us to examine the safety of the safe haven.

MOLLY JONES GRAY, MIDWIFE: I hope this goes well, getting the message out.

GUPTA: Molly Jones Gray cares a lot about maintaining that safe haven.

GRAY: You've been feeling good?

GUPTA: She's a midwife, and an advocate.

GRAY: Mothers should be, such as myself at a time, can make many choices to ensure healthy pregnancy. We can take prenatal vitamins, we can eat a healthy diet, we can avoid cigarettes and alcohol, we can exercise.

But if all the choices that we are able to make, we do not have a choice in this one. We cannot protect our babies from the powerful influence of toxic chemicals on their developing bodies.

I usually say don't put anything on a baby's skin that you wouldn't eat. If you can't recognize any of the ingredients, if you can't pronounce them, probably not a good idea to put on her skin.

GUPTA: Gray knows a lot about pregnancy. A lot about babies. And a lot about miscarriages.

GRAY: Losing an early pregnancy was really hard to go through.

ZACHERY GRAY, MOLLY'S HUSBAND: To have that ripped away from you, it put you in an emotional state that you can't really describe. And you wonder why. You know? Is it something that I did?

GRAY: For us, it led to this huge search into, was there anything that we can do differently? Is there anything that we can do better?

GUPTA: Molly and her husband did everything they could think of. They ate organic. They avoided fish with mercury. When she finally got pregnant with her son Paxton, she had a blood test that found high levels of mercury. That's a heavy metal that can cause brain damage.

Paxton, fortunately, is fine.

GRAY: Somehow my son was being exposed to mercury. And that's a weight to carry because I feel like it's our job as parents to protect them, to care for them, to nurture them, and to keep them out of harm's way.

GUPTA: Twelve 12 years into the backpack study, and the results are sobering.

PERERA: Fifteen percent of children have at least one developmental problem. We've seen relationships between the air pollutants and chromosomal abnormalities. A red flag that there has been some change that could increase risk of cancer later on.

GUPTA (on camera): None of that sounds very good.

PERERA: No, it doesn't sound good.

GUPTA (voice-over): Could it be the chemicals? Well, for now, we just don't know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And joining me now is Dr. Ed Clark. He's chair of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He's also a lead investigator with the National Children's Study. And they follow 100,000 children from the womb through the age of 21. Searching out some of these answers about the impact of the environment on health. Including the risks from all these various chemicals. Welcome to the show.

DR. ED CLARK, PEDIATRICS CHAIRMAN, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: Thank you. Great to be here.

GUPTA: You just heard that. Over 200 chemicals found in umbilical cord blood. You know I have three kids. I mean should I be alarmed? I mean most people are alarmed just hearing that. But how big a concern is it?

CLARK: It's really a concern. And this is the first validation of the number of chemicals that our children are being exposed to in (INAUDIBLE) and it's not surprising. Our environment is changing. This is a measure of it.

GUPTA: You know, it's funny, we talk a lot about the various things that are happening to our kids, a rise in asthma rates, a rise in some neurological things. Obesity is something that people talk about a lot.

And you think it may have to do with the environment? Obesity, for example. How would that be?

CLARK: Our children are becoming fatter, and it's not as simple as video games and fast food. There's something else more fundamentally going on. And some of those things could be driven by chemicals that mimic those early signals that determine how fat is laid down in our bodies.

GUPTA: Do we -- do we know this? Or are we sort of guessing and hypothesizing here? What do we know for sure?

CLARK: It really is a hypothesis at this point. But clearly the epidemics of obesity and asthma and other things that are really affecting our children's health have causes that we have not yet identified.

GUPTA: If we are hypothesizing, I mean, that means it could be wrong. And I mean, we're going to do all these studies. You're conducting this -- you know, 21-year study. At the end of it, it could come back and say, you know what, it was a little bit the sky is falling, that these chemicals are actually fine.

CLARK: It could be. But the reality is, that the children who are currently in grade school are the first generation in the history of this country to be at risk for being less healthy than their parents. And we have to ask these questions.

I'd be delighted if those chemicals weren't affecting it. But something is changing the health of our children. And we have to find out what it is.

GUPTA: Do you believe it's the environment?

CLARK: I believe that it's the environment, in combination with our genetics. And clearly our environment has changed dramatically in the last 60 years.

GUPTA: You say every community has a love canal. A toxic site that a lot of people have heard about. Every community has one of these?

CLARK: Not only has every community has them, each of us have a love canal in our backyard, under our kitchen sink, in our garden shed. We have chemicals that can profoundly interrupt and interfere with development.

GUPTA: Thanks so much. You are advancing science, so hopefully you can come back and join us, maybe when some of the results come back.

CLARK: Be delighted to.

GUPTA: All right. And when we return, the worst case scenario. A couple who blames toxic chemicals for the death of their daughter. There is a lesson, they say, no parent should miss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: You know, for a year now, as CNN investigated toxic chemicals, just about everyone we talked to said, look, they're probably safe. A little bit is not going to hurt you. Or we just don't know.

But that isn't good enough, I mean, after all, they used to say the same thing about lead while it was silently poisoning children. And the man who finally changed that flawed thinking, Phil Landrigan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): As a young researcher with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 1970, Dr. Philip Landrigan went to El Paso to investigate possible lead poisoning in children as a result of this smelter. Extracting the lead from ore and sending tons of lead dusts into the air.

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, MOUNT SINAI CHILDREN'S ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CENTER: I was the leader of a two-man CDC team that went to El Paso to look into this situation. We found an epidemic.

GUPTA: When they drew the results on a map, bull's eye.

LANDRIGAN: The main finding was that in the closest circle, 60 percent of kids had elevated blood lead levels. In the next circle, 25 percent, and the third circle, 10 percent. So it was really a bull's eye distribution of lead poisoning in El Paso with the epicenter right at the smelter.

GUPTA: The surprise wasn't that kids closest to the smelter got sick, it was what happened to the children farther away.

LANDRIGAN: Lower levels of exposure, it still caused loss of intelligence, disruption of behavior, a whole spectrum of damage to the brain and the nervous system.

GUPTA: Landrigan's research helped bring about a ban on lead paint and leaded gasoline. The federal government now says there is no safe level of lead. Any exposure could cause some brain or central nervous system damage.

And there went the notion that just a little bit of lead was OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Well, nowadays, everyone knows lead is dangerous, but here's a question. What is the next lead?

And Jim and Nancy Chuda have been making it their life's mission to answer that question. For them it all began after a devastating tragedy, their 4-year-old daughter Colette was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. Nine months of aggressive treatment couldn't save their only child. She died before her 5th birthday.

Thanks for joining us.

NANCY CHUDA, DAUGHTER DIED FROM RARE CANCER: Thank you, Sanjay.

JIM CHUDA, DAUGHTER DIED FROM RARE CANCER: Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks for sharing your story. I have three daughters of my own and when I heard about your story, I -- you can't help but think about your own kids in a situation like this. And everybody wants to do best by their kids. Make sure they're taking care of them.

And I know, obviously, so many years later, it still obviously affects you, I'm sure, emotionally. Have you reached any closure? I mean do you know what happened with Colette?

J. CHUDA: Well, I think that -- we have suspicions, and there has been tests that came out after we started our organization. In the beginning, we knew that it wasn't genetically -- we had tests and everything, so we knew it had to be something else that caused it and -- you know, because it wasn't in any of our family or background or history or anything.

GUPTA: It wasn't hereditary. You did all the testing, Nancy. What -- the environment was something you really thought about?

N. CHUDA: Well, the environment really was the trigger. After Colette passed, we had these genetic tests, and it seemed obvious to us, if it isn't something that's genetic, then what could it have been in the environment?

And a year later in 1995, a study came out in the "American Journal of Epidemiology", a Brazilian study, that linked Wilms tumor it to pesticide exposure --

GUPTA: That's the type of cancer she had.

N. CHUDA: The non-hereditary form. And it stated that on the maternal side, if the exposure had taken place in the 48th month, which was the fourth year, that if pesticide had crossed over the placenta, if there was some exposure, that this could cause the development of the Wilms tumor.

And that study catapulted our curiosity, not just about Colette, but all children, and the fact that so many children are exposed to environmental contaminants and what are the links? And back in '94, '95, we didn't really know what we now know today.

GUPTA: What do we know now? I mean, you know, because I've been investigating this for a year.

N. CHUDA: Right.

GUPTA: And the answer that I keep hearing is, in small doses, it's safe, or don't worry about it or we just simply don't know. What do we know?

J. CHUDA: I guess, when we first started this, we found out that it -- it's like the lottery. It only takes one carcinogen in a few seconds to start the mutation. And so the bottom line is, you have to cut your odds, you know?

You have to reduce the amount of exposure. The more you can reduce the amount of exposure, you're like benefiting your chances of getting cancer.

N. CHUDA: And the other problem, too, Sanjay, is that in terms of testing, the model that we use is 155-pound man -- male. This is absurd. If we're talking about the unique vulnerabilities of children and the cumulative amounts of chemicals they're taking into their systems while they're developing and just -- and these chemicals are effecting their growth, it doesn't make sense.

It's illogical that the regulatory system would support that of a 155- pound male. I mean, children have less constitutionality in this country than our chemicals. And what we want to see happen is we want to see laws supporting those that are more vulnerable such as children, pregnant women and the elderly.

And that's what we're doing with "Healthy Child, Healthy World." We are educating parents about what they can do.

GUPTA: Thanks so much for sharing your story. I know it's a difficult one to share, but you really have turned it to your life's work. Appreciate it.

J. CHUDA: Thanks so much.

N. CHUDA: Thank you.

GUPTA: And just ahead, you know, as tragic as stories like Colette Chuda are, the science is still far from settled. And next we're going to hear from those who believe that if we're looking at the environment, we may be looking at the wrong place. We'll explain. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: There are more than 80,000 known chemicals in use today by American industry. Think about that. Eighty thousand chemicals.

In fact, let me give you a better scope of the problem. It was as if there was a chemical in each and every one of these seats here in the Georgia dome. And how many do you think have actually been tested for safety? Just about 200.

Here's a way of thinking about it. It would be like this small section right here over.

And in a minute, we're going to hear what the EPA chief has to say about all that. But joining me now, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president and founder of the non-governmental, nonprofit American Council on Science and Health.

She believes much of the concern over environmental toxins really doesn't have a basis in reality.

And also here is Ken Cook, director of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and lobbying group. He says the government regulation of chemicals has not gone nearly far enough.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

KEN COOK, PRESIDENT, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: Thanks for having me.

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting. Dr. Whelan, let me start with you. You say -- you said you wanted to clear up some misconceptions about the association between environmental toxins and children's health.

What are some of those misconceptions? Do you believe that they can be harmful?

ELIZABETH WHELAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND HEALTH: First of all, there's a major gap between what people perceive about chemicals and health versus what the scientific reality is.

You know, we are surrounded by chemicals mainly from nature. Everything is chemicals. And we have to accept that. I know of no case where an unborn child, a child or an adult has ever suffered health consequences from exposure to trace levels of chemicals.

I feel this is all a distraction. We want parents to worry about the real threats to their children, things like wearing seat belts, getting a smoke detector, getting vaccinations. You know -- you know the drill.

Instead they're worrying about, you know, whether they can use plastic bottles or microwave, or whether the shower curtain is dangerous. And this has become absurd. I think we have to bring more science back into the dialogue.

GUPTA: Ken, what do you think about that? I mean that's part of what your organization does, is try to bring some science to this. COOK: Well, I mean I think the problem with Dr. Whelan's thesis is that scientists themselves don't agree with it. We have a national toxicology program that's devoted to looking at levels of carcinogens that we find in every day life.

It's not all occupational, and yet we have health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates hundreds and hundreds of pesticides. Again, these occur at very low doses and time and again, they have taken action when they felt that there was a risk to, particularly, children.

So it seems to me that the real issue here is not that we have to say either/or. I don't think we're telling parents when we say they should be concerned about pollution in the environment --

GUPTA: Right.

COOK: -- that they should take off the seat belts or stop putting on helmets when the kids go for a bike ride or start smoking.

WHELAN: It's a matter -- it's a matter of priorities. This upsets our priorities. And we're talking about government agencies, well, let's say, the National Cancer Institute is on record of saying that they know of no ill health related to the approved regulated use of pesticides. They have spoken.

The Food and Drug Administration gave a statement -- a very clear statement -- in January about the chemical BPA, which is used in plastics, it's used in can liners to prevent food-borne illness.

Everyone is worried about it. They shouldn't be.

GUPTA: Well, Doctor --

WHELAN: The FDA has spoken and said it's safe.

GUPTA: Dr. Whelan, I mean, the reality is, though, as you know, there are 80,000 chemicals out there that we're talking about specifically here. And -- of which 200 have been tested. So the point -- I think the point that a lot of people get concerned about, not so much that we think that they're dangerous, but we don't know that they're safe.

You don't know it. And we've made these mistakes before. I mean we used to think lead was OK. And now we know that not only is it not OK, it can cause significant problems.

WHELAN: The problem is how you prove something safe. It cannot be done. It's like proving a negative. And you take something -- again, a chemical like BPA that's been around for 50 years, been tested all over the world and everyone says it's safe, yet it still does not have a safe designation in the minds of many people who are concerned about chemicals.

COOK: Well, it also doesn't have a safe designation entirely yet from the U.S. government. The Food and Drug Administration is still examining Bisphenol A. It's a common ingredient in can liners and other sources of environmental exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed BPA as one of its chemicals of concern. So it's just not the case.

But you do make a good point -- Dr. Gupta. You know there was a time when the tobacco industry said that cigarette smoking was not a problem. In fact they denied it way into the era when science was saying otherwise.

So I think Dr. Whelan, she has a lot of support from the industry. I think making the points that she's making is the kind of thing that is reassuring to some chemical companies, but the final verdict is really what are the chemical companies saying themselves now.

WHELAN: I must jump --

COOK: And what they're saying is --

WHELAN: I must jump in here.

COOK: -- we think we need reform.

GUPTA: All right. Dr. Whelan, go ahead.

WHELAN: I must jump in here. We do not have a lot of funding from these chemical companies. As a matter of fact, we represent ourselves as an independent group representing consumers.

And to bring up any analogy with the tobacco industry is absolutely intolerable. There is no comparison. We had epidemiological evidence starting back in the '50s that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer and other diseases, and the industry did deny it. And it was a terribly irresponsible thing to do.

What we're talking about here is an absolute distance from the tobacco industry. There is no evidence that these chemicals as used pose any ill health. And I think we have to, again, go back to the natural chemicals and say, why aren't we worrying about them?

And you mentioned that we could find chemicals in the blood of the fetus or the embryo, or the mother.

GUPTA: The umbilical cord blood.

WHELAN: Well, you know, we can find -- we can find anything in anything with our analytical techniques today. So the fact that you can find it has no relationship to it causing any ill health.

GUPTA: Go ahead.

COOK: Well, I think -- you know, I think that's actually a fair statement. My training is in chemistry. I don't think anyone should make the case that just because you find a mixture of chemicals or individual chemicals in someone's blood that it is a health risk.

But I don't know anyone who's making that claim. What we're saying is, if you're finding chemicals in umbilical cord blood, we ought to have a very rigorous way of determining whether or not they're safe.

GUPTA: It does -- still strike me, I think, just as a father more than anything else that we don't know the answers to some of these things. And out of those 80,000 chemicals, only 200 have been tested. I really just have a hard time still getting my mind around that.

We'll have you both back.

COOK: Thank you.

GUPTA: Stay tuned, for sure.

In this country, environmental chemicals are innocent until proven guilty. That's the way to think about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: When I saw that the Environmental Protection Agency had little or no control over the kinds of chemicals that are being introduced in products in our country --

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: That's not the case in Europe. When it comes to our safety, why is there such a startling difference? That answer after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon live in the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Here's a look at your headlines this hour.

Elena Kagan has been sworn in as Supreme Court justice. Kagan is President Obama's second appointment to the high court. She becomes the 112th justice and the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Former President Fidel Castro spoke to the Cuban National Assembly today for the first time in four years. He spoke out against nuclear war, urging President Obama not to fire the first shot in a confrontation. Castro turns 84 next Friday.

Police in Maryland have charged a couple with the murder of two children and two adults outside Washington, D.C. The crime scene was described by police as horrific. Forty-three-year-old -- a 43-year- old man and an 18-year-old woman from Texas were charged in the killings, which were apparently drug related.

Police say the victims and the suspect were involved in the sale of marijuana.

I'm Don Lemon, I'll see you back here at 10:00 p.m. Our special report "TOXIC AMERICA" continues right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: And we are back with TOXIC CHILDHOOD. You know, as we've learned tonight, nobody can give parents any assurance that the chemicals turning up in our children's bodies are reasonably safe because the testing has not been done.

But right now, in Europe, a new safety standard is taking hold. One that our leaders in Washington are looking very closely at, and so is the Morin family of Memphis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): June 3rd, 2004. The Morins' world came crashing down. That day, their 3-year-old daughter Isabel -- until then in perfect health -- was diagnosed with cancer. Leukemia.

TERI MORIN, ISABELLE'S MOTHER: I was told it was not hereditary. So the only other thought that I can believe is that it had to be something in the environment that entered her blood stream.

THIERRY MORIN, ISABELLE'S FATHER: Everything around us, really, that we use in the household were -- had chemicals in them that were not necessarily tested.

GUPTA: We can't say for sure whether Isabelle's cancer was caused by chemicals. The science on cause and effect, it's not there yet. But there are many red flags.

Richard Dennison has a PhD from Yale in molecular biochemistry. He's with the Environmental Defense Fund, which by the way helped ban the chemical that we began this hour with. DDT.

RICHARD DENNISON, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: We know a lot of diseases are on the rise, especially childhood diseases, certain types of cancers and leukemias in children are rising. We have plenty of circumstantial evidence to take a more cautious approach toward the way we expose people to chemicals.

GUPTA: Those exposures are supposed to be regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act. TSCA. The 34-year-old law gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to track and control all new and existing chemicals.

DENNISON: We have a pretty deep hole to dig ourselves out of, and that's because we had a system that essentially presumed almost all chemicals on the market were safe.

GUPTA: That presumption, that chemicals are innocent until proven guilty, is being thrown out as we speak in Europe. Manufacturers are now racing to meet a December deadline to submit their chemicals to government-approved labs that will determine whether they are safe enough to keep on the market.

That new European Union law is called REACH. Registration, evaluation, authorization, and, yes, restriction of chemicals. For the first time, putting the burden of proof for safety on the manufacturers. Which is why this multimillion dollar lab outside London, and labs like it, in all 27 nations of the European Union, are testing thousands of chemicals right now.

JOE HENNON, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: It not about banning chemicals, it's about identifying those things which are potentially dangerous and substituting or eliminating them where it is possible.

GUPTA: That's already happening. In Europe, you're not going to find nail polish with Dibutyl phthalates. The suspected hormone disruptor is banned over there. But it's still in products here. Or petroleum distillates, a possible carcinogen but still found here in some mascara, perfume and lipstick.

(On camera): But if you're like me, you may be wondering why what's happening in Europe isn't also happening here in the United States. And I can tell you, in large part, it's because of some of the decisions being made in that building right behind me. And the stage is now being set in the U.S. capitol for a big fight over toxic chemicals.

(Voice-over): Senator Frank Lautenberg, he's 86 years old, a long- time environmentalist, grandfather of 11, who has just been fighting his own battle with lymphoma, has introduced a bill reforming TSCA. He says, for the future of his, and even your grandchildren.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: I saw that the Environmental Protection Agency had little or no control over the kinds of chemicals that are being introduced in product in our country.

GUPTA: Lautenberg wrote the law banning smoking on airplanes. His Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would give the EPA more regulatory teeth, and like Europe, make companies provide evidence that a chemical is safe first.

(On camera): Did TSCA achieve anything?

LAUTENBERG: Not much. Not much. Because the system was broken. For EPA to have to go out and research and say, OK, now let's look at the baby bottle, let's look at the spray, let's -- the air refresher, let's look at the upholstery cleaner, to try and fair it out, what was bad for you, was the wrong approach. That was -- that was too late.

GUPTA (voice-over): Just last month, the House of Representatives held hearings on a similar bill. And Lautenberg offered up more legislation. To require better safety testing of dispersants. Those are the chemicals that were used to break up the oil spill in the Gulf.

The industry agrees. The Toxic Substances Control Act needs to be updated. But says public health is safe.

(On camera): Are there chemicals that we're breathing in, that we just drank, that we ate earlier today, that are unsafe?

MICHAEL WALLS, AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL: No. GUPTA: You say that with confidence.

WALLS: I say that with some confidence. I think the Toxic Substances Control Act has proven pretty effective in protecting the health and the environment.

GUPTA (voice-over): Their big concern? That the bill might stifle innovation.

WALLS: What we don't want to happen is move to a system where the barriers to bring in a new product to the market are so high that they can't be met. We want a system that allows our industry to maintain its competitive edge, to bring forward that new innovation.

GUPTA: As for the Morin family, we know where we weigh in.

T. MORIN: Our government should do a better job and make it easier for parents to be able to go out and buy products and know that they're safe for their children.

GUPTA: After 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy, Isabelle, now 9, is cancer free. Today the Morins buy green products. The refrigerator is full of organic food. But Teri says she will never be completely free from worry about her family being exposed to so many chemicals every single day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Well, a lot of this falls on the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, which says its mission is to protect human health from toxic chemicals and pollution.

And joining me from Venice, Louisiana is the EPA chief, Lisa Jackson.

Thanks so much for joining us.

LISA JACKSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Thanks, Sanjay. Thanks for having me.

GUPTA: The Senate is currently looking at legislation to try and test chemicals before they ever come to market. Sort of a precautionary principle. Can you do that? How likely is that to happen?

JACKSON: Well, you know, Senator Lautenberg and his Safe Chemicals Act, he's a good friend, he's been very involved in toxic chemicals issues. He's told me himself personally about losing his father and always knowing and believing that it had something to do with exposures.

I think it's what we must do. Certainly it's going to require resources and the ideal is actually to get the industry to move to the point where they start thinking about formulations differently.

Where they say, you know what, we know people don't want to buy toxic chemicals, we know they want to minimize exposure, let's find a way to give the people what they want. GUPTA: And some of that is happening. I think that's what's the most striking thing to me. In Europe, for example, they make products without a lot of these chemicals that people are worried about.

JACKSON: There were years and years, decades, really, where this country led the world, including western Europe, in its awareness of environmental pollution and hazards.

And we kind of fell behind on that. We kind of fell behind especially in the area of products and toxic chemicals.

What makes me proud is that this administration, the Obama administration, early on, last year, came together around a list of principles that the whole administration has said we want to see in legislation.

The president understands that this is one of the environmental issues of our lifetime and realizes that his administration can make a huge difference here.

GUPTA: There's so many of those chemicals. It would take a lot to test all these chemicals. I think that's been one of the great limiting steps here.

JACKSON: That's right.

GUPTA: Do you feel like you have the resources to be able to do this job?

JACKSON: Well, I don't think right now that EPA is resourced to do the job because the job needs to change. I mean what we've said is that the current law grandfathered in, you know, 60,000-plus chemicals, at the time that the current law was passed.

All of those got a free pass. And now we want to go back and reopen the book and put everything back on the table and say, hey, maybe some of these 60,000, we're actually up to 80,000 now. Maybe some of those need to be regulated in a different way, as well.

You're going to have to prioritize. We can't -- we can't just decide we're not going to import or bring in chemicals.

One of our other principles is that we need to have the industry that wants to use and bring these chemicals to market, pay for the work that it will take government to assure they're safe.

And I think we find out and we're learning out here in the Gulf every day that regulations are important, that the work of regulators has to be watched, but it's done to protect people. And chemicals are certainly no different.

GUPTA: Lisa Jackson -- Administrator Jackson, thanks so much for joining us, from Venice, Louisiana. I know it's been a hard day for you. Stay healthy and stay well down there.

JACKSON: Thanks. GUPTA: Now even if our government changes its ways, that's only one front in the war on cancer. We're talking about cheap toys from all over the world, easily found, and as we learned, full of danger. One grandmother's fight -- that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: And we are back with TOXIC CHILDHOOD. You know, for 40 years, Judy Braiman has been trying to root out products that are dangerous for children. It started out as a personal and somewhat local mission to simply protect her own five boys and girls when they were growing up in the 1970s.

But as she learned, it is an international fight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): In the basement of Judy Braiman's home in suburban Rochester, New York --

JUDY BRAIMAN'S CITIZEN CRUSADER: This is it.

GUPTA: -- is a room that she calls --

BRAIMAN: Chamber of horrors.

GUPTA: The chamber of horrors. A treasure trove of dangerous toys.

BRAIMAN: One of the largest recalls was this. One of the little arms came off. It was a small part.

GUPTA: Choking hazards and sharp edges used to be the focus of this citizen crusader. This child's shoe led her down a new path.

BRAIMAN: The mother called me up and said that there was red paint coming off on the baby's mouth, a year old baby.

GUPTA: It was the 1990s, and she knew the hazards of lead-based paint.

BRAIMAN: I contacted the company to ask, did they test the product for any heavy metals or -- particularly lead and they said, oh, we've tested, it's perfectly safe. It was a food coloring. So we took it to the lab and they found lead. And there was a recall.

GUPTA: A recall. And for this grandmother of nine, a refocused mission. To find the hidden danger to children from toxic substances.

Three years ago, Judy learned of another hidden threat. Cadmium. A heavy metal, which the government considers nearly as dangerous as lead, was turning up in children's jewelry manufactured in China.

BRAIMAN: We were finding almost 100 percent cadmium in the charms. I've never seen anything like it.

GUPTA: She buys the jewelry she thinks children would like. BRAIMAN: I'm always looking. Every place I go, I'm looking. It's just inbred in me now.

GUPTA: She's become a regular at this Rochester lab.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you like to test for on that? We're going to do the angel charm.

BRAIMAN: OK. Cadmium, lead and zinc.

GUPTA: The head of the lab says, to his surprise, they've found elevated levels of cadmium in about a quarter of the products she's brought in.

BRUCE HOOGESTEGER, PARADIGM ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES: In some cases were up to 80 to 90 percent cadmium. So, you know, it's really almost a pure metal in some cases.

INEZ TENENBAUM, CHAIRMAN, CONSUMER PRODUCTS SAFETY COMMISSION: It is a very dangerous product.

GUPTA: Inez Tenenbaum is chairwoman of the federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission. As she says cadmium in children's jewelry has not become the widespread problem the agency used to have with lead in children's jewelry and toys. But she tells us, exposure to the metal does pose significant risks.

TENENBAUM: High levels of cadmium can cause a lot of problems for children. Kidney failure, lung problems, a number of p problems in children. That is why we're very serious about removing cadmium from children's jewelry.

GUPTA: The agency has issued several recalls, including one triggered by Judy Braiman's testing. Meanwhile, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has stepped up inspections at ports, working alongside Custom and Border Patrol officers to monitor shipments from China.

Inspectors now use special tools to measure heavy metals and have used their authority to send back a shipment that contained jewelry with cadmium.

For its part, the Chinese government in January banned the use of cadmium in jewelry.

Judy Braiman is encouraged that the U.S. government is taking action. But she says it's not enough.

BRAIMAN: This bracelet should have been recalled.

GUPTA: She's still finding cadmium in jewelry.

BRAIMAN: It's extremely frustrating. But I keep going because, you know, we have very small victories and they will probably lead to larger victories, I'm hoping.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: And when we come back, what you can do right now to make your home a healthier place. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: You know, we've heard a lot in the past hour about the potential dangers about chemicals that we're all exposed to. And chemicals that can be especially harmful to children.

I do want to talk about some solutions, ways to reduce our exposure. I think the best way to do it is to take a trip through a household.

First stop, obviously, you walk in the house is the foyer. And if you take off your shoes by the front door, you're going to reduce tracking potentially harmful chemicals all throughout your home.

Now this can be workplace chemicals, garden pesticides, lawn fertilizers, urbacides (ph). Keeping these toxic chemicals out of the house is especially important for families with babies and toddlers. They spend a lot of time on the floor.

Next stop for a lot of people including myself is often the kitchen. One thing that often comes up in talking about the kitchen is talking about water specifically. Now water in the United States is pretty clean, but you can go ahead and add a level of protection by using something as simple as a carbon filter.

A pitcher like this has a carbon filter inside that can help remove lead, chlorine and bacteria as well. Now it doesn't have to something you install. It can be something as simple as that, but the gold standard, really, is something known as a reverse osmosis system. That's not as cheap. It usually costs a few hundred dollars to install one.

Now when you're in the kitchen, you're obviously talking about food. Meat and dairy. Now these are two areas you can focus on. You should look for products without antibiotics and without growth hormone. That's a recommendation incidentally of the president's cancer panel.

Now another big concern is pesticides in our produce. No one wants to be exposed to pesticides. You've heard that all hour. But buying organic can also be expensive. One solution is to simply wash and peel. Fruits and vegetables, you do it with all of them. But like this apple, just wash and peel it.

But something else you can do is choose organic produce for certain fruits and vegetables that have the highest level of pesticides. Among them are peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines and strawberries.

Now don't worry about remembering all that. We're going to have a handy guide online at CNN.com/ToxicAmerica. Now you can print that out, you could put it on your refrigerator. That's going to be a handy thing for you whenever you cook.

You may have heard about all the potential health issues with nonstick cookware. This is something that a lot of people think of. You have this nonstick cookware and it also has a chemical known as PFOA, P-F- O-A. And that's listed as a chemical of concern and it is starting to show up in our blood.

Some simple solutions? You could use a cast iron pan. You can also simple use a stainless steel pan like this one.

How about the way that you store food? A lot of people think about this. A lot of people have a drawer that sort of looks like this one in their homes. They use it for leftovers, you want to put all your extra food in there.

Now if you're concerned about BPA in plastics because you've heard about these animal studies linking it to a host of problems including cancers, sexual dysfunction and heart disease, check the recycling label at the bottom.

If there's a number seven, you should assume it has BPA unless it is specifically labeled "BPA-free." Now one of the way to simply use less plastic is to use stainless steel. Water bottles like this one for example. You can also store your leftovers in glass containers like this glass container with the fruit or glass containers like this one.

Another thing I want to talk about, really quickly. when you go from the kitchen to the living room is dust. A lot of people talk about indoor air pollution. And here's something maybe you didn't know.

Indoor air is two to five times more polluted than the air outside. And you go inside, thinking that you're safer, not necessarily true. It's a huge concern for parents because kids spend most of their time indoors these days.

Furniture, carpet, drapes. A lot of those products give off a smell. You've probably smelled it. That's called off-gassing. And what you're smelling could be formaldehyde or other volatile organic compounds. And those are linked to asthma, kidney and central nervous system damage and sometimes cancer. So open the windows. Allow for plenty of ventilation.

And here's something else that maybe you didn't know. It's simply get a house plant. A house plant alone can remove up to 90 percent of the toxic chemicals in our air.

You know, TOXIC AMERICA really is about all of us which is why you should visit our Web site as well. Stories in your neighborhood, all over the country, and most importantly, what you can do today.

The interplay between toxic substances, the environment and your health, it's something we're going to be forced to deal with for the rest of our lives. Every day, we're going to learn something new. Something important. And you can count on CNN to bring it to you.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching.