Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers


  Williams, C. 1997. Terminus Brain: The environmental threats to human intelligence. Cassell, London and Herndon VA. ISBN 0-304-33857-5. 261pp.

Williams presents a wide-ranging overview of the vulnerability of human intelligence and behavior to events that interfere with normal brain development. His basic thesis is that three factors--pollution, the absence of key micronutrients, and a degraded psycho-social environment-- have had devastating impacts on human functionality, undermining not only the capacity of individuals to fulfill their potential and cope in a society that is increasingly information-dependent, but also eroding society's capacity to develop economically.

Importantly, Williams points out that any of of these factors by themselves can have devastating impacts, but that they often co-occur. Micronutrients are more likely to be lacking from the diets of people who also are living in heavily contaminated areas (both conditions of which are inadvertent legacies of the green revolution). These are often poor communities struggling to provide a nurturing, supportive environment for young children. The co-occurrences compound the effects of the factors because they interact. For example, iron, vitamin D and calcium deficiencies increase lead uptake. Williams suggests that a new research field be established, "toxico-dietetics," specifically to look at these interactions.

"Biological synergism becomes more significant when viewed in the social context of poorer countries. The absence of necessary environmental agents (micronutrients) is usually seen as a rural problem; the presence of environmental toxins, urban. But in the ever-growing informal settlements--the 'shanty towns'--around the cities of the poorer countries both problems come together. ... Many dirty industries which require a small labour force, such as nuclear power stations, are deliberately sited in rural areas within poorer countries. Local people, who probably already suffer from (rural) nutritional deficiences, are exposed to high levels of industrial (urban) pollutants, such as lead from shielding and protective clothing discarded around the nuclear power stations."

Williams argues--correctly, we believe--that "education ministries should now be in the front line of environmental activism" (p33). This is more than a theoretical concern, as illustrated in debates unfolding in the 2000 US presidential election. Both candidates are pushing for holding schools financially accountable for poor performance. Their platforms ignore the certainty that some schools' performance is below average because of neurological impairment of the students caused by lead and other neurotoxicants: withdrawing funds from these schools will punish children for the failures of government to prevent contamination, not for the failure of the school to do its best.

Williams also presents a devastating critique of the inadequacy of risk assessment as practiced by the US EPA and other countries' regulatory agencies to protect against the neurotoxicological impacts of contaminants.







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