Chemical exposure and neurological problems in children

Leading chemical experts are calling for a radical overhaul of chemical regulation following research in The Lancet Neurology (February 15th, 2014)

Scientists have argued that current regulations are inadequate to prevent fetuses and children fro m the myriad of potentially damaging chemicals already linked to neurological disorders such as autism, dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These chemicals are frequently now found in the environment and even in home in items such as clothing, furniture, carpet glues, and toys.

Philippe Grandjean (Harvard School of Public Health) and Philip Landrigan (Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York) stated that in the past seven years, the number of recognised chemical causes of neurodevelopmental disorders had already doubled from six to twelve. Those on the list included fluoride, lead, arsenic, pesticides such as DDT, solvents, methyl mercury (found in some fish), flame retardants (often added to plastics and textiles), and manganese (which may even be found in some drinking water). Since 2006, the number of chemicals known to damage the human brain but still not regulated to protect children’s health has increased from 202 to 214.

Both scientists were also adamant that a meta-analysis of 27 studies, mainly from China, had found children in areas with high levels of fluoride in water had significantly lower IQ scores than those living in low-level fluoride areas.

Of particular concern to them were pesticides, which involve over 80,000 different chemicals in the USA alone, none of which have been tested on developing children or foetuses.

The burden of proof of harm is the contrary for these chemicals to the proof of non-harm for foods, and makes controlling chemicals in contact with developing children especially difficult.

“The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to ensure mandatory developmental neurotoxicity testing of existing and new chemicals before they come into the marketplace,” added Dr Landrigan.

The scientists went on to propose a new international prevention strategy that would put the onus on chemical producers to demonstrate that their products are low risk using a similar testing process to pharmaceuticals. They also proposed a new international regulatory agency to co-ordinate these measures.

However, Oliver Jones, a lecturer in analytical chemistry at RMIT University warned that some of these chemicals have very helpful benefits, “DDT helps stop the spread of malaria, flame retardants reduce deaths from fires in the home and manganese is a required trace element for all living organisms”.