Physicians for Social
July, 2001-In Harms Way, Toxic Threats to Child Development" by Physicians for Social
It is not just alcohol or things the pregnant mothers can control (or
even are aware they should control) but
external environmental effects in public, on the job, in schools.
It is a lack of education regarding consumer products in our homes and
on our jobs - poor indoor air quality and a dependence on pesticides.
Putting the blame on the mothers is unfair - the mothers who drink when
they are pregnant are in the minority. I know this is not what you meant,
Sue, and that the drinking while pregnant is just one example of how
vulnerable the fetus is.
Here are some quotable quotes from the report "
Toxic exposures deserve special scrutiny because they are preventable
causes of harm.
Developmental neurotoxicants are chemicals that are toxic to the
developing brain. They include the metals; lead, mercury, cadmium, and
manganese,; nicotine; pesticides such as organophosphates and others that
are widely used in homes and schools; dioxin and PCB's that bioaccumulate
in the food chain; and solvents, including ethanol and others used in
paints, glues and cleaning solutions. These chemicals may be directly
toxic to cells or interfere with hormones (endocrine disruptors),
neurotransmitters, or other growth factors.
Small doses on a critical day of development can cause hyperactivity and
permanent changes in neurotrasmitter receptor levels in the brain.
Exposure to organic solvents during development may
cause a spectrum of disorders including structural birth defects,
hyperactivity, attention deficits, reduced IQ, learning and memory
Animal and limited human studies show that exposures to
common chemicals like toluene, trichloroethylene, xylene, and styrene
during pregnancy can also cause learning deficiencies and altered behavior
Vast quantities of neurotoxic chemicals are also used in
industrial processes and incorporated into products. Large numbers of
chemicals are widely used in consumer products and regularly discharged to
the environment, resulting in widespread exposures. About 80,000
chemicals are in commercial use in the US. Of the chemicals on the EPA's
inventory, even basic toxicity information is missing from publicly
available sources for nearly 75% of the top 3000 high production volume
substances. Information about the potential neurotoxicity or
developmental neurotoxicity of most of these chemicals is virtually
absent. Our experience with lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs) shows that animal tests often grossly underestimate risks to human
neurological development. The relatively few chemicals that have
undergone developmental neurotoxicity testing, animal tests are used to
predict risks of human exposures.
Of the top 20 chemicals reported by the Toxics Release Inventory
(available on line) as released in the largest quantities into the
environment in 1997, nearly three-quarters are known or suspected
neurotoxicants. They include methanol, ammonia, manganese compounds,
toluene, phosphoric acid, xylene, n-hexane, chlorine, methyl ethyl ketone,
carbon disulfide, dichloromethane, styrene, lead compounds and glycol
ethers. Over a billion pounds of these neurotoxic chemicals were released
directly on-site by large, industrial facilities into the air, water and
A metabolite of the pesticide chlorpyrifos is present in the urine of over
80% of adults and 90% of children from representative population samples.
The historical record shows that "safe thresholds" for known
neurotoxicants have been continuously revised downward as scientific
knowledge advances. Blood lead levels are examples of this.
A recent 5 year pesticide study suggests that combinations of commonly
used agricultural chemicals, in levels typically found in ground water, can
significantly influence immune and endocrine systems, as well as
neurological function, in laboratory animals.
Protecting our children from preventable and potentially harmful exposures
requires a precautionary policy that can only occur with basic changes in
the regulatory process.
When there is evidence for serious, widespread and irreversible harm, as
described in this report, residual scientific uncertainties should not
be used to delay precautionary actions.
We believe that we can no longer ignore the mounting evidence that
chemical exposures contribute to the epidemic of developmental
The impact of children's developmental disorders on children and families
is immense. Parents, teachers, school administrators, and communities
spend increasing amounts of time, money and energy trying to help children
acquire skills that once came more naturally.
The struggle to pull these kids out of the river, or keep them from
falling in, is so consuming that we have little time to consider the
disturbing question of what put them in this precarious state in the first
The cost of remedial programs, though not fully known, clearly places a
heavy burden upon the limited resources of educational and social service
For the vast majority of these disorders there is NO evidence that genetic
factors are the predominant cause. The few syndromes that appear to be
exclusively genetic are fleetingly rare (i.e. Lesh Nyhan, Tay-Sachs,
Fragile X, etc.)
Although genetic factors are important, they should not be viewed in
Certain genes may be susceptible to or cause individuals to be more
susceptible to environmental "triggers."
Particular vulnerability to a chemical exposure may be the result of a
single or multiple interacting genes.
Two genes increase susceptibility to organophosphate pesticides. One.
carried by 4% of the population, results in lower levels of
acetylcholinesterase, the target enzyme of organophosphates. The other,
carried by 30-40% of the population, results in reductions in paroxonase,
an enzyme that plays an important role in breaking down organophosphate
We now understand that the outcomes are the result of interacting factors,
among which are exposures to environmental contaminants that are
A sensible first step in environmental remediation is to eliminate ongoing
The problem is that the medical profession does not have adequate or any
training in environmental health. This is stated in the EPA's recognition
and Management of Pesticide Poisoning and in the Congressional report
"Neurotoxicity, Identifying and Controlling Poisons of the Nervous
System". This is our government telling us the information is not
getting out there to our physicians.
We as parents must educate our doctors, schools, friends, relatives, etc.
The media is owned by the commercial sponsors that make and profit from
these products and the sponsors that make the revenue from the
medications that treat our symptoms. Are you aware that many of the companies that make
pesticides now own pharmaceutical companies as well?
We must become the experts and educate our communities
or there will be no change and our children and their children will be the
ones to suffer and have to deal with these issues. I believe that once
people are educated, they will make the rational choices. We must look at
our convenience products and decide if they are convenient in the long run
or are they contributing to our health problems and making our lives more
complicated and miserable. It is not the Mothers who are at
fault. It is society that has failed us Mothers. The knowledge is out there for us
- we have the power to make the changes if just one person at a time or one school at a time. By making
the consumer choices and telling our friends and neighbors and becoming
involved with our government, park boards, athletic associations, schools,
girl/boy scouts and churches, we can educate and make a difference.
products without harmful chemicals