T, J Stein, F Reich, and M Valenti. 2000. In
Harm's Way: Toxic threats to child development. A report
Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility.
et al. reports on the contribution of chemical contamination to
an epidemic of developmental, learning, and behavioral disabilities
affecting America's children today. Nearly 12 million children
(17%) in the United States under age 18 suffer from one or more
learning, developmental, or behavioral disabilities. "These
disabilities are clearly the result of complex interactions among
genetic, environmental and social factors that impact children during
vulnerable periods of development."
research points to contamination in the womb as a significant contributor
to these problems. "Toxic exposures deserve special scrutiny
because they are preventable causes of harm."
follow a series of excerpts from the report's Executive Summary.
The entire report is available for downloading in .pdf
Boston PSR's recommendations for personal steps you can
take to protect your child and family from toxic threats to brain
incidence, In Harm's Way reports:
deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to conservative
estimates, affects 3 to 6% of all school children, though recent
evidence suggests the prevalence may be as high as 17%."
disabilities alone may affect approximately 5-10% of children
in public schools."
1% of all children are mentally retarded" (in the United
incidence of autism may be as high as 2 per 1000 children. One
study of autism prevalence between 1966 and 1997 showed a doubling
of rates over that time frame. Within the state of California,
the number of children entered into the autism registry increased
by 210% between 1987 and 1998."
causation, the report summarizes:
factors can be important, but they should not be viewed in isolation.
Increasingly scientists are focusing on interactions between an
individual's genetic make-up and environmental 'triggers.' Particular
genes can increase one's susceptibility to a contaminant by, for
example, altering metabolism of the contaminant in the body, decreasing
(or increasing) one's ability to detoxify a specific contaminant,
or --more complex still--causing inappropriate immune system reactions
to particular compounds.
the scientific literature on contaminants, animal and human studies
show conclusively that "a variety of chemicals commonly encountered
in industry and the home can contribute to developmental, learning
and behavioral disorders."
the known agents are lead, mercury, manganese, nicotine, dioxins
and PCBs, many pesticides (particularly but not exclusively the
organophosphate pesticides, whose origins are the nerve gases developed
during WW II, solvents such as toluene, styrene and trichloroethylene).
unfortunately, these are not just theoretical concerns.
impacts are seen at current exposure levels. For example, according
to US EPA estimates, almost 1.2 million women in the US during
their childbearing years eat sufficient amounts of mercury-contaminated
fish to risk brain damage in their children.
infants are exposed to levels of dioxin that exceed adult exposures
by as much as a factor of 50. Dioxin exposures of this magnitude
have been shown to cause abnormal social behavior in monkeys exposed
before birth through the maternal diet."
exposure to PCBs at levels found in the US population today "adversely
affects brain development, causing attention and IQ deficits."