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Everyday Toxins are Causing Damage to Our Children’s Brains

Leading scientists name 12 chemicals they believe to be causing widespread behavioral and cognitive problems in children including lower IQs, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder. These everyday toxins are causing irreversible damage to our children’s brains.

Rates of both autism spectrum disorder and ADHD are increasing in the US. Currently 10-15% of births are associated with neurobehavioral development disorders. Genetic factors account for no more than 30-40% of all cases of brain development disorders. So external exposures are increasing the number of births with these conditions.

While some of these chemicals are now being heavily restricted, others can still be found in both the environment and everyday household items like furniture and clothing. All of these chemicals were introduced to the market before their dangers were discovered which leads us to question; what other harmful chemicals are out there that we don’t know about?

What are the 12 named chemicals?

The 12 chemicals toxic to the developing brains of fetuses are:

  • manganese
  • fluoride
  • chlorpyrifos
  • dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT/DDE)
  • tetrachloroethylene (PERC)
  • polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
  • arsenic
  • lead
  • mercury
  • toluene
  • methyl
  • ethanol
  • polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

The problem with toxic substances is that their effects can happen slowly over time. One example of this phenomenon is lead. Lead was commonly used in gasoline, house paints, and children’s toys for decades before scientists realized the true extent of the damage exposure can cause. Even then, experts often accused low-income parents of insufficient supervision and causing unstable mental behaviors that led children to eat paint. Still today, there is disagreement as to what is a safe level of lead exposure.

What about pesticides?

Two of the chemicals on the list are pesticides, including Chlorpyrifos. Marketed by Dow Chemical beginning in 1965, Chlorpyrifos was the most widely used insect killer in American homes for decades. But in 1995, the Dow was fined $732,000 by the EPA for concealing more than 200 reports of poisoning related to the pesticide. Today, chlorpyrifos is classified as “moderately toxic” to mammals, but is still widely in use for agriculture on crops, in greenhouses and plant nurseries, on wood products and golf courses.

How do the chemicals affect children’s brains?

Billions of chemical signals are constantly being carried between neurons in our brains, and about a quarter of your body’s metabolism goes toward operating and maintaining the brain. During the first few weeks of gestation, those cells line up, form a groove, and then close to form the start of the spinal cord.

For a brain to develop properly, neurons must move to precise places in a precise sequence under the direction of hormones and chemical neurotransmitters. This is an intricate process that can be affected by exposure to toxic chemicals. When children are exposed to chemicals in utero or during childhood, the chemicals are especially harmful, because the developing brain is a uniquely vulnerable organ.

There are 5 stages of human brain development. By the age of 6, the brain is about 95% its adult weight and peak of energy consumption. Emerging science even suggests that most human brains don’t reach full maturity until the age of 25.

The effects these chemicals have on the brain are permanent and are not limited to IQ points. These chemicals can have emotional implications on humans as well, including having less impulse control, being more likely to make bad decisions, getting into trouble, and becoming dyslexic.

How are chemical exposures managed?

Many consumers assume there is a rigorous testing process before a new chemical is allowed to be introduced into a consumer product, but there is still no law that requires chemicals be tested for safety before they come to market. A recent report estimates that scientists find harmful chemicals capable of damaging the developing brain of a human fetus or infant at a rate of about once a year and that rate is expected to increase in the coming years. Once identified, scientists must provide extensive proof of the harmful effects before the chemicals can be officially regulated.

Are there any laws regulating chemicals?

The primary U.S. law regulating chemicals is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Passed in 1976 under President Gerald Ford, it was intended to protect people and the environment from dangerous chemical exposures. The problem is that it only requires testing for a small percentage of chemicals.

This law has often been described as ineffective. For example, in the early 1990s, the EPA was unable to ban asbestos under the law even after the National Toxicology Program had classified asbestos as a known cancer-causing agent and the World Health Organization had called for a global ban.

When TSCA was enacted, the 62,000 chemicals already on the market were grandfathered in with no testing required. It has been 40 years since the law was first passed and in that time more than 20,000 new chemicals have entered the market while only five have been classified as dangerous. Another problem is that the ability to detect these chemicals takes longer to perform than the chemical industries’ ability to develop new chemicals and put them into consumer products.

As of May 8, 2019, California officials banned the widely used farm pesticide chlorpyrifos due to its link to neurological issues among farmworkers and their children. While the ban won’t be official for up to two years, when finalized it will make California the second state to prohibit the chemical’s use. Hawaii has already banned it and New York’s Legislature passed a bill banning it as well.

What can we do about this?

Stronger chemical safety legislation is needed, but every attempt to update the Toxic Substances Control Act has been met with opposition. So, how do we protect ourselves and our children in the meantime? It is recommend that pregnant women eat organic produce. It is also best practice to limit your exposure to toxic chemicals whenever possible. At Sprout, we dedicate ourselves to providing products are that are clean, organic, and free from harmful chemicals. See our household products for safe, reliable options for you and your family.