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Scientists Worry That ChemicalsAre Affecting Brain Development

Posted Sep 13 2008 3:50am

Industrial chemicals may be damaging the nervous systems of the world’s children, a new Lancet article worries. (Ironically, I wrote this piece, Something Odd Is Happening to US just a couple weeks ago.)

Scientists are essentially saying they have little idea what a multitude of these chemicals do to the brains of developing fetuses and young children, reports Medical News Today on the Lancet article, which is behind a firewall. (One day, one day.)

At least 202 chemicals are a known threat to the human brain, but the U.S. has 80,000 chemicals registered for commercial use and the European Union has 100,000. Most of these have not been studied for their impact on children, the study says.

One in six children have developmental disabilities that mostly affect the nervous system, the researchers found, who are concerned that these understudied chemicals may be the culprit.

“Chemicals that can interfere with brain function – that are toxic to the brain – should be considered toxic also to the developing brain,” co-author Dr. Philippe Grandjean, from the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark, tells Reuters. “We should protect developing brains from exposure to these substances. We also need to examine industrial chemicals for these kinds of effects because it is not being done systematically.”

Because I don’t have access to the report, it’s hard to evaluate. One criticism is that it’s more a call to action than proof that industrial chemicals are hurting kids.

Dr. Charles Santerre, an advisor for the American Council on Science and Health complains in a rebuttal article that the Lancet report “is inflammatory, and to follow its recommendations would only add an unnecessary burden to the approval process.”

While agreeing that more research is needed, ACSH claims there is no scientific basis that chemicals in the environment cause brain impairment. ACSH takes the approach that chemicals are safe until proven guilty.

That may be okay for a bunch of scientist who believe that chemicals make our lives better. It does not make sense for parents, who use a different logic: If you don’t know what a chemical will do to our kids, don’t use it.

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