A broad-based group of scientists and professionals agree there’s a link between toxic environmental chemicals and children's risks for neurodevelopmental disorders.
In what’s being called an unprecedented alliance of leading scientists, health professionals, and children's and environmental health advocates, a consensus statement was published with a very clear message:
“Widespread exposures to toxic chemicals in our air, water, food, soil, and consumer products can increase the risks for cognitive, behavioral, or social impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”
Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, this groundbreaking alliance is called Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks) and includes 48 of the country's top scientists, health professionals and health advocates, across many disciplines and sectors, including epidemiology, toxicology, exposure science, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, nursing, public health, and federal and state chemical policy. As well many of the nation's top medical and scientific societies are voicing their support.
The group is calling for immediate action to significantly reduce exposures to toxic chemicals and protect brain development. Noting that neurodevelopmental disorders are complex disorders with multiple causes – genetic, social, and environmental, "the contribution of toxic chemicals to these disorders can be prevented."
These include chemicals that are used extensively in consumer products and that have become widespread in the environment. Some are chemicals to which children and pregnant women are regularly exposed, and they are detected in the bodies of virtually all Americans in national surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.
A number of chemicals and pollutants received special shout-outs as "prime examples of neurodevelopmentally toxic chemicals." The following were specifically highlighted as contributing to children's learning, intellectual and behavioral impairments:
- Organophosphate (OP) pesticides
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used as flame retardants
- Combustion-related air pollutants, which include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter
- Lead, with primary sources of water pipes and paint
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), industrial chemicals that were commonly used in electrical equipment and now pollute landfills and water
"This is truly a historic agreement," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto in a statement for the publication. Hertz-Picciotto is co-director of Project TENDR and professor of public health sciences at UC Davis and the UC Davis MIND Institute. "Ten years ago, this consensus wouldn't have been possible, but the scientific research is now abundantly clear: toxic chemicals are harming our children's brain development. As a society, we can eliminate or significantly lower these toxic chemical exposures and address inadequate regulatory systems that have allowed their proliferation. These steps can, in turn, reduce high rates of neurodevelopmental disorders."
Maureen Swanson, leader of the Healthy Children Project of the Learning Disabilities Association of America and co-director of Project TENDR, piped in saying that collaboration was required to bring attention to the amount of evidence available on toxins and brain health.
The statement's conclusion says that based on available scientific evidence, "we assert that the current system in the United States for evaluating scientific evidence and making health-based decisions about environmental chemicals is fundamentally broken."
"This national problem is so pressing that the TENDR scientists and health professionals will continue their collaboration to develop and issue recommendations aimed at significantly reducing exposures to toxic chemicals that are harming children's brain development," Swanson says. "Calling for further study is no longer a sufficient response to this threat."