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Information release: New evidence on chemicals and children’s stunted neurological development

Information release available in German

Two of the leading experts on how children’s health is affected by environmental pollution – Dr. Philippe Grandjean and Dr. Phil Landrigan – have just published a major review of the evidence about chemicals contributing to “a global, silent pandemic” of disorders of brain and nervous system (from clinical manifestations of autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, all the way to subclinical decrements in brain function).

The analysis published in the Lancet Neurology postulates that alongside the 12 chemicals recognised in epidemiology as developmental neurotoxicants and 214 adult neurotoxicants, many more remain undiscovered (In the past 7 years, the number of developmental neurotoxicants has doubled from six to 12, and the adult neurotoxicants also expanded from 202 to 214).

The authors think that current chemical regulations worldwide are woefully inadequate to safeguard children whose developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment.

The main obstacles in dealing with this pandemic of ‘brain drain’ are 1) the large gaps in the testing of chemicals for neurotoxicity which means developmental neurotoxicants are not being identified; 2) the huge amount of proof needed for regulation. They propose a global prevention strategy based on obligatory testing of chemicals already on the market; pre-market evaluations of new chemicals and an international agency to assess chemicals for neurotoxicity like the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Genon Jensen, Director of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a leading European not-for-profit organization addressing how the environment affects health in the EU, states:

"The 2006 review of the evidence on neurodevelopmental effects of chemicals was a major driver in the overhaul of pesticides authorisations in Europe. We hope this new review will, like the other one, prompt urgently needed regulatory improvements, including testing requirements and control measures, particularly for EU endocrine disruptors policies, the REACH and pesticides laws."

"These changes will not only help save our children’s brains, improve their quality of life, and so on but better detection and control of developmental neurotoxicants will help us all economically. The study points to the fact that the health damage costs from chemicals toxic to neurodevelopment may be huge. Another recent review found that for one substance alone – mercury – the health costs in the EU amount to up to 9 bn EUR per year, from IQ loss."

The chemicals recently added to the developmental neurotoxicants in Landrigan and Grandjean’s assessment fall under various pieces of EU legislation, including REACH (industrial chemicals), pesticides and biocides. Several of them are classified as potential endocrine disruptors in the list of the US Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX).

For example, the pesticide chlorpyrifos is still in widespread use in the EU and in the EU register of pesticides residues. It is currently under review, following concerns on health impacts. HEAL advocates that the Grandjean and Landrigan article be used as a basis for a major review and improvement of all EU laws to better identify and eliminate developmental neurotoxicants, and start significant EU efforts for the international cooperation necessary to establish the new clearinghouse and global prevention programmes.

Link to LANCET STUDY: Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(13)70278-3/abstract
Dr Philippe Grandjean MD, Philip J Landrigan MD: The Lancet Neurology, Volume 13, Issue 3, Pages 330 - 338, March 2014
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Last updated on 3 March 2014

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