That’s because this time, the study is talking about how the millions of chemicals that surround us everyday are taking a toll on our children. Here’s more, and how you can help protect your kids.
Recent Increases in Childhood Neurological Disorders
A few statements of note:
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Autism Society notes that it is the fastest-growing developmental disability, with a 1,148 percent growth rate.
- The CDC states that approximately eleven percent of children 4-17 years of age have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Rates have increased an average of three percent per year from 1997 to 2006, and about five percent a year from 2003 to 2011.
- The New York Times states that nearly two million students in public schools struggle with reading because of dyslexia. The Dyslexia Research Trust notes that the disability is a common cause of childhood loss-of-confidence, and can lead to misery, depression, and even suicide.
Now, researchers suggest that we are seeing increases in all three of these disorders potentially because of the toxic chemicals in our environment.
Study Identifies Chemicals That Cause Brain Problems
For the study, which was published in Lancet Neurology, researchers followed up on a review they did in 2006, when they identified five industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants,” or chemicals that cause brain problems. They noted that exposure to these chemicals during early fetal development “can cause brain injury at doses much lower than those affecting adult brain function,” and added that another “200 chemicals are known to cause clinical neurotoxic effects in adults.”
In this more recent study, the researchers again reviewed the existing literature and updated their findings, adding six more chemicals to the list. All eleven include:
- Lead: a heavy metal linked to low IQ and other brain deficits.
- Methylmercury: the most toxic form of mercury and the one that most easily accumulates in human tissues. Can affect neurological development of the fetus.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): used as cooling fluids, but banned throughout most of the world in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Still found in the environment and in humans. Can be present in foods like fish. Associated with reduced cognitive function.
- Arsenic: has been used as a pesticide, wood preserver, and past part of livestock feed. Linked with reduced cognitive function.
- Toluene: a solvent found in products like nail polish and household cleaners. Linked to attention deficit disorder.
- Manganese: we need trace levels of this nutrient in our diets, but too much can cause intellectual development problems. Common drinking water contaminant.
- Fluoride: can help strengthen teeth, but high levels of exposure linked to decreased IQ. Usually found in water supplies and dental products.
- Chlorpyrifos (pesticides): banned in many parts of the world, but still used in some low-income countries. Linked to brain problems.
- Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT): same as above.
- Tetrachloroethylene (PERC; a solvent): widely used in dry cleaning; linked with hyperactivity and aggressive behavior.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants): used in building materials and furnishings, as well as in plastics, foams, and textiles. Banned now, but persistent in the environment. Linked to neurodevelopmental disorders.
The study pointed out some specific connections, like manganese to diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills, solvents with hyperactivity and aggressive behavior, and certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.
The researchers stated they believe even more neurotoxidants remain to be discovered, and labeled all chemicals together as contributing to a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioral deficits that is eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, and damaging societies.
Oh-know how I’m always saying that the government just isn’t doing enough to protect us from these chemicals? The researchers agree. They wrote, “Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of neurotoxicity.”
What to Do?
Although genetics are known to play a role in things like autism and ADHD, the researchers point out that genes account for only about 30-40 percent of the cases. This means that environmental factors-and more specifically, chemicals in the environment-are likely to be contributing to the majority of the diagnoses. Yet current regulations are extremely inadequate to address the issue.
The study calls for more testing of these chemicals, so we can better understand exactly how they are causing damage. The authors want to make testing mandatory on an international level. And while studies like these add to the evidence, they don’t outright prove that the chemicals are causing these brain problems. That makes it difficult to get regulations changed, because the powers that be require vast amounts of direct proof that this is causing that.
Scientists continue to try to provide this proof. In the meantime, parents have to do everything they can to cut down on toxin exposure. Here are some tips!
- Get a water filter.
- Read my options for dry cleaning.
- Read labels on your personal care products-avoid those ingredients listed here.
- Have a “no shoes” policy in your home, and provide a place where everyone can leave their shoes so toxins aren’t tracked into the home.
- Dust and vacuum frequently.
- Cut back on processed foods and enjoy more whole foods and frozen vegetables and fruits.
- Avoid these ingredients when shopping for food.
- Choose safer cleaning options for your home. I have several ideas for you here and here.
- Avoid these ingredients in your home.
- Throw out synthetic air fresheners. Choose natural essential oils, potpourri, and beeswax candles instead. (Read why you shouldn’t use Febreze here.)
- Avoid all sources of BPA, including plastic bottles, canned goods, and plastic containers that may contain the chemical.
Do you have other suggestions for reducing your child’s toxic exposure? Please share your thoughts.
Picture courtesy Serge Bertasius Photography via freedigitalphotos.net.