"One of the most powerful concepts that's now circulating around in the human rights but also the environmental community is this idea of toxic trespass, meaning that there are chemicals that are suspected or known to be linked to cancer or reproductive problems; neurological poisons that are entering our bodies because we're breathing or we're drinking or we're eating food and we haven't consented to their presence being there. So it's a form of trespass of toxic chemicals.
"And this places the issue of environmental contamination firmly, I think, within the context of human rights. And it's most powerful, I think, when we talk about our children. Because children are far more vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals than we adults are, not only because their bodies are just getting assembled but because also in some cases they're missing certain kinds of coats of armor that we adults have to protect ourselves from low levels of toxic chemicals.
"For example, all of us have a blood brain barrier that works pretty well actually at keeping things like pesticides that might be cycling around in our bloodstream from entering the gray matter of our brain where they could really do damage. But you don't get a blood brain barrier until you're six-months old, so for embryos, fetuses, and newborns tiny, tiny, vanishingly small exposures at that vulnerable point in time may be worth more than much bigger exposures to, let's say, pesticides in your drinking water later on in life. And that fact alone I think mounts an important challenge to the current way we regulate toxic chemicals in this nation.
"Because we've historically taken a look at how these chemicals affect the adult and then we extrapolate down to children, but the new science is showing us that children have special vulnerabilities that we haven't taken into account, and if we all deserve equal protection under the law then how do you explain that our laws may be sufficiently protective for a thirty- five-year old but not for a two-month old?
"And it seems clear, I think, especially in the case of water-borne contaminants because we all have to drink water, whether a woman breast feeds her child and the water becomes her breast milk or whether a mother formula feeds her child and the tap water goes into the bottle and is mixed with formula, a baby is getting a dose of toxic chemicals that are carried in water. And we all have an intimate relationship with our drinking water whether we want one or not."