A Toxic Environment For Our Children’s Brains
February 20, 2014

A Toxic Environment For Our Children’s Brains

Are industrial chemicals causing an increase in child health problems, like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)? How much are we and our children being poisoned by our environment? The truth is it is impossible to say with any accuracy. What is certain, however, is that there are many chemicals in our food, water, the air we breathe, and the materials we interact with on a daily basis that are invisibly and silently damaging our health. New research has now identified a much wider range of toxic chemicals that are believed to cause neurodevelopmental disabilities in children.

These disabilities and developmental problems are increasing around the world affecting millions of children. Back in 2006, research was published that identified five industrial chemicals that impact on brain development and are therefore a major cause of this increase in cognitive impairment in the young. The chemicals were labelled “developmental neurotoxicants.” The five toxic substances were lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic and toluene. While you may wonder how known poisons like arsenic get into our environment in the first place, the truth is that the use of many known toxins in industrial processes and manufacturing is commonplace.

In the latest findings (due to be published in the Lancet journal in March), scientists report that epidemiological studies carried out since 2006 have identified six additional developmental neurotoxins. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), dichlorodiphenyltrichlorothoethane, tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers which are flame retardants. Even the names sound toxic. We don’t see these chemicals. We don’t taste them. We just don’t know they are there and, as the researchers point out in their findings, the likelihood is that there are many more just like these that have, as yet, just not been identified or studied.

Among the observed effects of some of these substances were that manganese was associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills, solvents were linked to increased aggression and hyperactivity, and pesticides were probable causes of “cognitive” delays.

Because the effects of toxins in the environment are so poorly understood, there is no clear strategy to deal with the issue. Diagnosis of problems like autism, ADHD, and learning difficulties, which often have a wide spectrum of degrees of severity, is difficult. Many children “slip through the net” of proper diagnosis. As the new research points out, “The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance.” Industrial chemicals are emerging as the likely cause of “this silent pandemic” that is eroding intelligence, adversely affecting behaviour, and damaging society as a whole.

Worse still is the prognosis. We just do not know what industrial chemicals are doing to our lives. Lack of data, the huge problem of achieving change in national and international policy, and the absence as yet of any commitment to tackling the problem, mean that nothing is being done to stem the toxic tide. The conclusion of the new research is that this is an international problem requiring a global solution in the form of a new “international clearinghouse” responsible for evaluating industrial chemicals and their potential developmental neurotoxicity. The report concludes that the methods needed to test for toxicity are there that “now is the time to make that testing mandatory.” Who in their right mind would disagree with that?

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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