The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains

brainThe March 18, 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine carried a powerful article by James Hamblin on the damage to children’s brains from common neurotoxic chemicals.

Studies reported by Dr. David Bellinger, professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, show that exposure of pregnant women to organophosphates resulted in a total loss of 16.9 million IQ points. Professors Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan reported that a silent pandemic of toxics has been damaging the brains of unborn children. They named 12 chemicals that they believe are causing not just lower Iqs, but also ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. Grandjean and Landrigan say that genetic factors account for no more that 30 to 40 percent of brain development disorders. Therefore, most are caused by one or more of the 12 neurotoxic chemical they identified.

Among the 12 chemicals they identified as neurotoxic are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and chlorpyrifos. The former was banned decades ago, but it is still present in homes from its addition to foam cushioning as a flame retardant. Although the use of chlorpyrifos was banned for home use in 2010, it is one of the largest volume agricultural insecticides and people are exposed to it in fruit and vegetables they eat.

Other reports describe neurological defects from the organophosphates (e.g., chlorpyrifos). A medical study (reported in Science Daily, May 7, 2010) examined the association between levels of organophosphate pesticides and ADHD in children 8 to 15 years of age. The study found that children with higher urinary concentrations of organophosphates were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Pregnant women’s exposures to these dozen chemicals would probably have been greatly reduced if the Safe Chemical Improvement Act of 2013 introduced in the U.S. Senate by Frank Lautenberg and David Witter had been enacted into law – but it wasn’t. Hence, our weak protection from toxic chemicals is still governed by the antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1974. I urge you to ask your U.S. Representative or Senator what they are doing to upgrade TSCA. For more on this topic, see my blog of August 17, 2013: Failed Modernization of Chemical Safety Regulations.


About donlouis

The author has long had a keen interest in staying healthy and fit, and in doing whatever I can to keep the natural environment unpolluted and a healthy space for people and all animals. As a former Board Member of a municipal water district, I regularly had to deal with the issue of water quality. I first became aware of radiation hazards from toxic materials while working on uranium for nuclear reactors. During the 1960s I was tuned into the global hazard from Strontium 90 raining down from atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. While working in the chemical industry in later years I became aware of the many forms of chemical contaminants entering the environment every day, and resolved to do something about it. I am able to make sense out of the voluminous descriptions of common toxic chemical because of my training in chemistry, with a Ph.D. degree and several decades of research and development work in the chemical industry. My training and experience enables me to present to readers reliable and current information on the topic of chemical hazards in the environment, and their threats to human health. All my life I have loved hiking and camping in nature. Skiing, river kayaking, and tennis have been my favorite physical activities. Nature photography is my artistic passion.
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