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Industrial Chemicals Are Impairing the Brain Development of Children Worldwide

Fetal and early childhood exposures to industrial chemicals in the environment can damage the developing brain and can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs)—autism,// attention deficit disorder (ADHD), and mental retardation. Still, there has been insufficient research done to identify the individual chemicals that can cause injury to the developing brains of children.

In a new review study, published in the print issue of The Lancet researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine systematically examined publicly available data on chemical toxicity in order to identify the industrial chemicals that are the most likely to damage the developing brain.

The researchers found that 202 industrial chemicals have the capacity to damage the human brain, and they conclude that chemical pollution may have harmed the brains of millions of children worldwide. The authors conclude further that the toxic effects of industrial chemicals on children have generally been overlooked.

To protect children against industrial chemicals that can injure the developing brain, the researchers urge a precautionary approach for chemical testing and control. Such an approach is beginning to be applied in the European Union. It puts in place strong regulations, which could later be relaxed, if the hazard were less than anticipated, instead of current regulations that require a high level of proof. At present in the U.S., requirements for toxicity testing of chemicals are minimal.

“The human brain is a precious and vulnerable organ. And because optimal brain function depends on the integrity of the organ, even limited damage may have serious consequences,” says Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor at Harvard School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.

One out of every six children has a developmental disability, usually involving the nervous system. Treating NDDs is difficult and
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