A list exploring chemicals that affect brain development in children is growing. In a study by the The Lancet Neurology, researchers found six more chemicals in what is dubbed a silent and global pandemic of “neurodevelopmental toxicity.”
In 2006, five industrial chemicals were identified as causing harm to the brain. The original list included methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in capacitors, motors and electric transformers), lead, arsenic (in water), soil, pesticides, wood preservatives, toluene (which is used in nail polish), leather tanning, paint thinners and processing gasoline. The neurotoxins were linked to lower neurodevelopment in the fetus as well as infants, creating low school performance, reduced IQ, delinquent behavior and neurological abnormalities in children in school.
The list now includes fluoride, manganese, DDT, chlorpyrifos, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese is said to be found in drinking water and can contribute to an increase in hyperactivity and low math scores, while high levels of fluoride from drinking water can lead to a decrease in IQ. The rest of the four chemicals are found in pesticides and solvents, and are associated with an increase in aggressive behavior and social development deficits.
Researchers acknowledge the lack of a causal connection between behavioral problems and exposure to a single chemical due to the challenge of isolating each chemical’s effect. But the links between brain disorders in children and higher levels of chemicals in a mother’s urine and blood do raise awareness of how these chemicals can be dangerous. The brain is most vulnerable to these chemicals, and the changes they make can be permanent.
There are more beyond these six not on the list of chemicals that affect brain development in children, as reported by Forbes, including bisphenol A and phthalate. The latter is found in cosmetics, and is linked to a child’s impaired social interactions and short attention span. Bisphenal is an additive in plastics, and has already seen a ban in baby bottles.
The authors say that autism, dyslexia, and ADHD, among other neurobehavioral problems, affect 10 to 15 percent of children born today. Genes do factor in for some of these cases, but only 30 to 40 percent, with environmental factors making up the rest.
Children are not protected from these chemicals because of two reasons. First, before they reach widespread use, there is lack of testing of chemicals from industrial plants in regard to how they affect a child’s brain development. Secondly, strong proof is required by regulatory agencies to place a limitation or restriction on the chemicals.
These six chemicals are sure to not be the last on the growing list of 11 chemicals that affect brain development in children. The researchers emphasize the worst part of these chemicals is their silent effect; they damage IQ and other subtle traits, but yet are not considered dangerous or pathological.
To summarize the chemicals’ effect on the brain, the research by The Lancet Neurology describes them as “eroding intelligence,” truncating future achievements,” “damaging societies,” and “disrupting behaviors,” noting how this is more of a concern in developing countries. The researchers’ call to action for a new framework needs to be discussed.
By Kollin Lore