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Toxic Chemicals In Plastic, Air, Food Affect Children's Brain Development

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A new report highlights the growing evidence on how various common chemicals, many of which are widely available, are endangering neurodevelopment not just in children but also in fetuses.

A group of scientists, together with advocates of children's well-being and health practitioners, called for renewed attention towards the problem.

In the paper, the experts emphasized the "alarming" surge in behavioral and learning problems observed in children. They wrote that parents report that one in six American children are experiencing developmental disability. These issues include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities among others. The researchers said that the frequency was 17 percent more compared to figures 10 years ago.

The team adds that as of 2012, more than 5.9 million American children (one in 10) are projected to have ADHD. The 2014 figures showed that one in 68 American children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

"Research in the neurosciences has identified 'critical windows of vulnerability' during embryonic and fetal development, infancy, early childhood and adolescence," the researchers wrote in the report.

The list of said chemicals include not just mercury and lead, but also the ones used in gardens and agriculture such as organophosphate pesticides. Phthalates, which are groups of chemical that make plastic sturdier and more flexible, are found in many personal care products, plastics and pharmaceuticals.

The list also includes polybrominated diphenyl ether (flame retardants) and air pollutants that are produced when fossil fuels and wood are burned.

The list includes more chemicals including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These were once used as lubricants for electrical equipment. In 1977, the PCBs were banned in the United States.

However, according to Susan Schantz, a professor of comparative biosciences at the University of Illinois, PCBs can "persist in the environment for decades." Schantz is one of the signatories to the statement of agreement.

"These chemicals are pervasive, not only in air and water, but in everyday consumer products that we use on our bodies and in our homes," she said.

Schantz added that to protect today's children, as well as those of tomorrow's, urgent action is needed. After all, decreasing the potential exposures to these toxic chemicals is possible.

Individual signatories to the report include David Bellinger (Harvard Medical School), Deborah Bennett (University of California, Davis), Alycia Halladay (Autism Science Foundation) and Linda Birnbaum (U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program).

On the other hand, numerous medical groups also signed the consensus agreement, including the International Neurotoxicology Association, the U.S. National Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks report was published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.

Photo: Mike Schmid | Flickr

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