Health

New Harvard Study Links Brain Disorders In Children To Industrial Chemicals

| by Jonathan Wolfe

A new study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health says toxic industrial chemicals are to blame for increased rates of neurodevelopment disabilities in children.

The study, titled “Neurobehavioral effects of developmental toxicity," is published in the Lancet Neurology journal.

The researchers say their findings show that industrial chemicals play a significant role in the increase of neurodevelopment disorders such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia found in children.

Philippe Grandjean, professor of environmental health at HSPH, spoke recently on the study’s findings.

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“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,” he said. “They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.”

The study follows up on a 2006 study in which the researchers found five common industrial chemicals to be “developmental neurotoxicants.” The latest study provides new research on those five chemicals while adding six new ones to the list.

According to HSPH, the additions are “manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants)."

Manganese is associated with reduced intellectual functioning and impaired motor skills. The listed pesticides cause delayed cognitive development. Solvents were linked to aggressive behavior and ADHD.

With all the available evidence in mind, the researchers say it’s clear we need more stringent testing of chemicals before allowing them to be used in everyday products.

“To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy,” the team writes in its abstract. “Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.” 

The team proposes an international clearinghouse that would conduct mandatory testing on all proposed new chemicals.

“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.”

Sources: HSPH, The Lancet