Neurodevelopmental disabilities in kids are increasingly linked to chemicals

Harold Mandel's picture
A young child

The chemicals which we are exposed to on a daily basis appear to be causing serious problems for kids. We all take chemistry classes in school, regardless of whether or not we are planning to go into the health professions, and yet we seem to forget just how toxic chemicals can be when they are packaged in colorful boxes and bottles as cleaning agents, pesticides and for other uses. In fact it's ironic that when we keep babies in ultra hygienic environments which smell fresh and clean, it is possible their nervous systems are being harmed from the toxic chemicals they are being exposed to in cleaning agents. This problem can very serious for kids whose developing small bodies are extremely sensitive to chemical agents.

There are a myriad of neurodevelopmental disabilities which affect millions of kids worldwide with many of these appearing to be increasing in frequency, reported The Lancet Neurology on Feb. 15, 2014.

These neurodevelopmental disabilities include:

1: Autism

2: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

3: Dyslexia

4: Other cognitive impairments

Industrial chemicals which can injure the developing brain have been found to be among the known causes for this rise in prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities in children. The researchers did a systematic review of this problem in 2006 and identified five industrial chemicals as being developmental neurotoxicants, including:

1: Lead

2: Methylmercury

3: Polychlorinated biphenyls

4: Arsenic

5: Toluene

There have been six additional developmental neurotoxicants identified since 2006, which include:

1: Manganese

2: Fluoride


3: Chlorpyrifos

4: Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane

5: Tetrachloroethylene

6: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers

It is thought by the researchers that even more neurotoxicants have remained undiscovered. They have proposed a global prevention strategy to control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity. It is the position of the scientists that untested chemicals should never be presumed to be safe to brain development. Therefore, chemicals which are in existing use and all new chemicals should be tested for developmental neurotoxicity. The urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse to coordinate these efforts and to accelerate the translation of these scientific understandings into prevention, has been suggested.

There have been a growing number of chemicals which have been found to be associated with brain disorders in children, reports Harvard School of Public Health in a review of this research. According to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, toxic chemicals may in fact be triggering the recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities which are being seen among children.

Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH, has said, “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.” This report has followed up on the similar review conducted by the authors in 2006 which identified five industrial chemicals as being "developmental neurotoxicants.” This new study has offered updated findings about those chemicals and has added information about the six newly recognized chemicals that can cause brain deficits.

In this study possible associations between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children have been outlined to include:

1: Manganese has been found to be associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills

2: Solvents have been associated with hyperactivity and aggressive behavior

3: Certain types of pesticides appear to cause cognitive delays

The researchers are convinced that many more chemicals other than the known dozen or so which have been identified as neurotoxicants are contributing to a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioral deficits that is causing serious problems, including:

1: An erosion of intelligence

2: Disrupting behaviors

3: Damage to societies

However, controlling this pandemic has been found to be very difficult because of a scarcity of data which is available to guide prevention and the large amount of proof which is needed for government regulation. The researchers have pointed out that very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of associations with developmental neurotoxicity. The problem is seen as being critical and international in scope. The solution must therefore be aggressive and international in scope. Mandatory testing of industrial chemicals along with the formation of a new international clearinghouse to evaluate industrial chemicals for potential developmental neurotoxicity, has been suggested.

It is my impression that in our overzealous desires to keep things really clean for new babies, we often go way overboard with the use of powerful and potentially highly toxic chemicals to clean things up. And in our war against pests we often ignore the potentially hazardous exposure to pesticides. The chemicals our kids, and adults, are being exposed to in such manners are as potentially toxic as controlled substances and therefore considerations of tight government regulation of these products makes sense. However, the obstacles to gaining such government regulation for these products are significant and so extreme caution must at all times be taken when exposing kids to any chemicals. It could be seen as a form of abuse of children to fail to take proper precautions in dealing with exposure to toxic chemicals.