Sunday, February 16, 2014

Brain Drain

In 2006, physicians associated with the Harvard School of Public Health and Mount Sinai hospital authored an article linking common chemicals to neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Although they noted that hundreds of chemicals are known to have neurotoxic effects, they singled out five chemicals of special concern for developing brains. Last week, in an article published in the journal Lancet Neurology, authors Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan added six more chemicals to the list.

Key points from the study and reports of it by Forbes and CNN include the following:

  • Young and pre-born children are especially sensitive to the effects of neurotoxins. Effects include autism and lowered IQ. Landrigan notes, "Beyond IQ, we're talking about behavior problems -- shortening of attention span, increased risk of ADHD. We're talking about emotional problems, less impulse control, (being) more likely to make bad decisions, get into trouble, be dyslexic and drop out of school. ... These are problems that are established early, but travel through childhood, adolescence, even into adult life."

  • The chemicals are known to cross the blood brain barrier. When this happens to children with developing brains the effects are permanent.

  • Chemicals of concern include pesticides, solvents, flame retardants, and more. The authors note that at least 1,000 chemicals have demonstrated an ability to interfere with brain function in animal studies. Landrigan adds, "We are very worried that there are a number of other chemicals out there in consumer products that we all contact every day that have the potential to damage the developing brain, but have never been safety tested.” Grandjean notes, "We are not just talking about single chemicals anymore. We are talking about chemicals in general."

  • The authors call for testing of all chemicals. Landrigan notes that the problem is not one of capability, but of political will.
The Safe Chemicals Act continues to languish in Washington. Other countries have taken action. In 2007, the European Union enacted REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). Landrigan remarks, "I find it very irritating some of the multinational manufacturers are now marketing products in Europe and the U.S. with the same brand name and same label, but in Europe (they) are free of toxic chemicals and in the U.S. they contain toxic chemicals."

Yep. I too, find it irritating.  The words infuriating and ridiculous also come to mind.  If the brain health of our most vulnerable doesn't move us to action, I'm not sure what will.

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