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New research from Mount Sinai and the Harvard School of Public Health features some alarming news. The number of industrial chemicals known to cause neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, have more than doubled in the past seven years. Findings from the research, “Neurobehavioral Effects of Developmental Toxicity” are published in this month’s edition of The Lancet Neurology. Co-author, Philip J. Landrigan, MD, notes, “Recent events, such as the chemical spill in to West Virginia’s Elk River and the continuing debates over hydrofracking, have certainly raised the public’s awareness over toxic chemicals and their effects on our health and well-being. But more alarming is that in only seven years, the number of industrial chemicals recognized to have impacts on brain development have doubled, leading to a global, silent epidemic of neurodevelopmental disabilities.” Landrigan further states that chemical reform is of utmost importance because of the harmful neurodevelopmental neurotoxic effects these chemicals cause to humans.

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This study has been in the work for a long while. Back in 2006, Dr. Landrigan and co-author Philippe Grandjean, MD published the results of a comprehensive analysis that identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurointoxicants: methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. In the years since, newer epidemiological studies have documented six more dangerous chemicals including manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane (or DDT), tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The problem is that there are far from just 12 harmful chemicals floating around. Researchers on this new study say that roughly 1,000 chemicals are known to be neurotoxic in animal species, so it makes sense that many, if not all of these chemicals may be harmful for humans as well. Chemicals don’t simply impact health, but health care costs as well. The study estimates that the loss of a single IQ point decreases average lifetime earnings of $18,000 per person, not to mention the annual costs of childhood lead poisoning and methylmercury toxicity carries a hefty price tag at a total of about $55 billion. Because they’re so abundant, it would be utterly impossible to avoid harmful chemicals altogether, but there are things you can do to reduce your exposure and help solve the chemical crisis. “Current chemical regulations are woefully inadequate to safeguard children whose developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment,” notes Dr. Grandjean. This in mind, Dr. Grandjean and Dr. Landrigan have proposed a three-pronged strategy that will help address chemical exposure:

  1. All existing industrial chemicals and pesticides should undergo legally mandated testing for safety and health concerns.
  2. Premarket evaluation of new chemicals before they enter markets, should be set up and any questionable chemical use should be approached via use of precautionary approaches.
  3. Formation of a new clearinghouse for neurotoxicity is necessary and the clearinghouse should facilitate and coordinate epidemiological and toxicological studies.

As a parent, check out the links below to help reduce your family’s risk of chemical exposure, plus get involved with chemical reform now!

+ Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity