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Toxic chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities among children—such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia—according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The researchers call for a new global prevention strategy to control the use of these substances: methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, toluene, lead, manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene (or perc, used in dry cleaning), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

The study outlines possible links between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children, such as:

  • Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills
  • Solvents like toluene are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior
  • Certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.

If this research stands up to further examination, the federal government may need to do something to reduce infants’ exposure to these chemicals. For a start, it’s another reason to never hang freshly dry cleaned clothes in a bedroom or anywhere near children, at least if the dry cleaner still uses perc. And to quickly change any remaining drinking water pipes that are made or soldered with lead. Avoiding fluoride, which is added to toothpaste and to drinking water. is more of a challenge. Will this study stir up again opposition to fluoridating water?

The report was  published online February 15, 2014 in Lancet Neurology. Its summary:

“Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence. In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. 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. To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.”

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