Chemicals Linked to Brain Disorders in Children, Study Says

Researchers are urging government action to prevent the continued use of these chemicals.

The recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities among children such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia may be directly linked to toxic chemicals, according to a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) published in the journal Lancet Neurology. The researchers who conducted the study are urging government officials to create a global prevention strategy to control the use of these substances.

In 2006, researchers identified five industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants,” which basically means that these are chemicals that can cause brain disorders. The new study is an update to the previous study, which was conducted by the same authors, and found six newly recognized chemicals to add to the “developmental neurotoxicants” category including manganese, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants).

According to a report from HSPH, this is concerning for a number of reasons:

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes,” said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH.

The study says that there are possible links between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children. For example:

Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills

Solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior

Certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays

What’s even scarier is that researchers are forecasting that they will find even more (lots more) chemicals than the already discovered dozen as neurotoxicants, and that this will contribute to what researchers are calling a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioral problems.

“[These deficits are] eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, and damaging societies,” the study’s authors say. Controlling this pandemic will be difficult due to a “scarcity of data to guide prevention” and the large amount of proof needed for government regulation. “Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity,” they write.

According to the report:

The authors say it’s crucial to control the use of these chemicals to protect children’s brain development worldwide. They propose mandatory testing of industrial chemicals and the formation of a new international clearinghouse to evaluate industrial chemicals for potential developmental neurotoxicity.

“The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international,”Grandjean said. “We have the methods in place to test industrial chemicals for harmful effects on children’s brain development—now is the time to make that testing mandatory.”