How Common Chemicals Endanger Child Brain Development

How Common Chemicals Endanger Child Brain Development

Chemicals contained in common products that an alarming number of families use every day are raising concerns among researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. These dangerous chemicals can be found in everything from pesticides to food packaging and personal care products. In a recent report published in the Environmental Health Perspectives NIH journal, 47 child health advocates, health practitioners and scientists have made a consensus announcement in Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks). The said announcement highly recommends that renewed attention be given to the escalating evidence that numerous widely available chemicals commonly used in our homes and schools are endangering neurodevelopment in children of all ages, including the fetus stage.

The Study

The University of Illinois study found that a host of regularly used chemicals, from mercury and lead to flame pesticides, retardants and high-risk chemicals used in manufacturing, both banned and not banned, require greater regulatory attention due to the danger they present to children’s brain development. Also called into question are government agency practices regarding the evaluation of scientific evidence concerning environmental contamination, recommending a new framework be put in place to analyze the dangers of the chemicals.

The Evidence

The research identified the chemicals that required the most attention and besides mercury and lead they include organophosphate pesticides used in gardening and agriculture, phthalates that are commonly used in skin care products, plastics, pharmaceuticals, flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and air pollutants caused by fuel and burning wood. It has also been found that the majority of the chemicals mentioned here have been found to restrict growth during the course of prenatal developmental stages, interfering with the formation and growth of neurons in the brain. When it comes to some of the chemicals, including phthalates, most women that are pregnant test positive for them. Phthalates have also been proven to interfere with thyroid hormone functionality.

Due to the fact that the full effects of the majority of chemicals are unknown, study participants and other medical experts feel that more research and rigorous evaluation needs to take place to help prevent their negative effects on child development. These chemicals are pervasive, not only in air and water but in everyday consumer products that we use on our bodies and in our homes. According to Dr. Susan Schantz, a comparative biosciences professor based at the University of Illinois, at this time there isn’t any precise proof of exactly what the chemicals are doing to children’s neurodevelopment because they haven’t been studied enough yet.

The fact is that children in the United States today are at an increased risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders that affect not only the brain but the nervous system, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, intellectual and behavioral disabilities and other learning disorders. While these are complex conditions with multiple causes, including social, genetic and environmental, the contribution to these disorders by toxic chemicals can be prevented.

Bottom line, if it appears that something is a risk to ourselves and our children, policymakers need to be prepared to come to a collective decision to use limited amounts or stop production all together instead of waiting for years to do so. Reducing exposure to toxic chemicals can be accomplished, and it is urgent that we do so if we want to protect the world’s children.


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