We know that autism is on the rise, and as parents, we are frustrated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every 88 children in the US has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. This is an increase of 78% since 2002.
What is driving this? Genes evolve far too slowly to account for the drastic rise in this disorder. A prime suspect: ENVIRONMENTAL EXPOSURES.
Yesterday, environmental health experts Philip Landrigan and Luca Lambertini, both of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, published a list of ten widely distributed chemicals already suspected of causing neurodevelopmental disorders, or brain problems, in children.
These are the TOP SUSPECTS, according to the experts:
Lead. This used to be added to paint and gasoline, and still can be found in soil, water, old paint, toys, and other consumer products.
Methylmercury. Mercury comes out of the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants under lax regulation. This mercury precipitates out over oceans and lakes, and is transformed into methylmercury as it gets into the food web. We are exposed to toxic methylmercury primarily from eating fish.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). A family of chemicals used widely in electrical equipment until their ban in 1979, PCBs persist in the environment and can contaminate fish and other food. They accumulate in animal fats, so are prevalent in farmed salmon (which is fattier than wild salmon), beef, eggs, chicken, cheese, and butter.
Organophosphate pesticides. These include such common insecticides as malathion, parathion, diazinon, and chlorpyrifos.
Organochlorine pesticides. These include lindane, a common lice treatment, and endosulfan. DDT (now banned) is an organochlorine pesticide that Rachel Carson made infamous as a bird-killer.
Endocrine disruptors. Chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system come in a variety of forms. Some, such as dioxin and PCBs, have been linked to definitive health problems. Others, such as the plasticizer BPA, are suspected of having health effects at low exposure levels.
Automotive exhaust. Well, most of us are turning the key each and every day. Can we find ways to drive less? Even better, can we find ways to use something to fuel our cars that does NOT produce such exhaust? The U.S. is, after all, the land of innovation.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). A byproduct of incomplete combustion, exposure to PAH has been linked to a range of health problems, including anxiety and behavioral issues in children.
Brominated flame retardants. These chemicals are purported to protect consumers from fire dangers. (The effectiveness of that protection is controversial.) They are found in a wide range of consumer products, such as children’s pajamas, mattresses, couches, car seats, strollers, and nursing pillows. Some have been proven harmful and phased out; others are still in use.
Perfluorinated compounds. These are stain and stick resistant chemicals. Think Teflon, Gore-Tex, upholstery treatments, and dental floss. Yup, dental floss. It’s embedded in the fibers of some brands to make it slide more easily through the teeth.
These substances are coming into our bodies from the air we breathe, yes, but also from the products we buy, the food we eat, our grooming products, our electricity supply.
These substances were created in many cases by scientists, chemists, and engineers across the land; and their use lines the pockets of corporate America. (Or did line those pockets, until the substances were banned, and the waste left to circulate through the environment, including our bodies.)
These substances have enough evidence of health harm lined up against them to inspire the head of a national agency to write that they are suspects in causing brain problems in our children.
These substances are ubiquitous. It is almost impossible to avoid exposure. It is good to try to avoid these chemicals–but as you can see, it is difficult. DENTAL FLOSS? Who knew.
These substances are polluting us, and our children, with potentially severe consequences. Should we wait to find out for sure if these substances cause harm? Not when it’s my kids you’re talking about. No thank you. Instead, we should incentivize some nice scientific ingenuity on their behalf.
We must have a public health approach to these toxic suspects – which means a regime of prevention. Why should moms–and their children–be the human guinea pigs for the chemical industry?
Please JOIN MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE to insist on a world where our children are not thrown under the bus of our increasingly industrialized, chemical-infused society. Our children’s brains–and hearts, and lives–and our future, depend on it.