The state of our brains determines who we are and what mental work we are capable of doing. Ultimately, its condition determines how we live our lives. A quarter of the body’s metabolism is used for operating the brain; it uses about 10 times more calories per pound than the rest of our body.
So writes James Hamblin, senior editor of The Atlantic, in the March 18, 2014 issue, with the same title that I have copied. He quotes from much of the research reported by Philippe Grandjean, MD and Philip Landrigan, MD.
Grandjean and Landrigan name 12 common chemicals in the environment that they believe are causing lower IQs, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. Neurobehavioral disorders, such as autism and ADHD currently affect 10 to 15 percent of births. As these two physicians succinctly put it, “Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, truncating future achievements and damaging societies.” They continue. “Genetic factors account for no more than 30 to 40 percent of all cases of brain development disorders. Thus, non-genetic, environmental exposures are involved in causation…Strong evidence exists that industrial chemicals widely disseminated in the environment are important contributors to what we have called the global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity.”
Most of the brain’s billions of neurons are formed in the first few months of life, and by the age of two almost all that a person will ever are in place. Therefore, it is during the first months the growing brain that is most vulnerable; exposure to low levels of toxic chemicals can cause permanent brain damage.
Can people rely upon chemical manufacturers to protect their health from potentially dangerous chemicals? Readers of this blog know the answer is “No.” Consider just two examples. In the 1920s the Ethyl Corporation (a joint venture of General Motors, DuPont, and Standard Oil) gave us leaded gasoline for more powerful cars, even though the neurotoxicity of lead was well known. For decades, beginning in 1965, Dow Chemical made and sold chlorpyrifos, the most widely used insect killer in American homes. Then in 1995 Dow was fined $732,00 by the EPA for concealing more than 200 reports of poisoning related to chlorpyrifos. In 2000 it withdrew it from household products, but it continues to be massively used on food plants and golf courses.
Women who are pregnant or have a baby would surely be wise to avoid exposures to common neurotoxic chemicals. My book lists several such chemical and where they may be encountered. The list includes: Aldicarb, Atrazine, Carbaryl, Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, Dichlorvos, Fenthion, Malathion, Methoxychlor, Piperonyl butoxide (an ingredient in Roundup©), Polybrominated diphenylethers and TRIS (two classes of flame retardants), and 2,4-D (an herbicide that Dow Chemical is pushing for wider use).
What’s a mother to do? Be vigilant: read labels; buy organic foods; avoid drift of pesticides from nearby farm fields; keep your child away from bedding that contains flame retardants. With little more attention and effort than in buying a car or home, you and your children can be safe from neurological disorders.