main banner
You are here: Home page » Resources » Press releases

TV documentary shows how EDCs are affecting our brains

“Demain, tous crétins?” Arte, 22.35, 11 November 2017

Brussels, 7 November 2017 - Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals may explain the fall in IQ and the explosion in mental development problems in children that have taken place over the past 20 years.

The French TV documentary, “Demain, tous crétins?” (Brains in danger?), which makes the case for this worrying proposition, is due to be screened on the French and German television channel, Arte at 22.35 pm (CET) on 11 November 2017. (1)

Until now, exposure to endocrine – or hormone – disrupting chemicals (EDCs) has most often been associated with falling fertility rates and increases in certain cancers. In this 56-minute feature film, scientists show why they are convinced that exposure to chemicals is disturbing normal brain development in children, especially during the first three months of life in the womb.

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) has welcomed the documentary as a contribution to raising awareness of the health problems associated with exposure to chemicals.

"This documentary provides another important perspective on the devastating effects for children and future generations of our society’s addiction to chemicals. Decision makers must wake up from their inertia and take concrete measures as soon as possible to reduce our exposure. A number one priority is the introduction of science-based identification criteria for endocrine disruptors," says Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

The film highlights a laboratory study on tadpoles by Professor Barbara Demeneix (3), an expert in endocrinology and author of the book “Toxic Cocktail”, which inspired the documentary. The study indicated that the brain development of premature frogs is affected by exposure to a low-dose of various chemicals suspected of being endocrine disrupters. This finding is unsettling because the thyroid hormone in frogs is identical to that in humans and the chemicals administered are similar (in content and dose) to those to which humans are exposed in daily life. It therefore appears highly likely that human brain development in the womb is also affected by exposure to chemicals that disrupt this vital hormone system.

Prof Demeneix says: “Today’s environment is full of chemicals that can interfere with thyroid hormone production and action. This is disquieting because thyroid hormone is essential for normal brain development and function. Interference with the human thyroid hormone system as a result of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in our bodies is the most likely cause of the fall in overall IQ and increased rates of ADHD and autism (4) that we have seen in recent decades.

The documentary explains how the process takes place. The production of thyroid hormones requires iodine, consumed in iodised salt and fish. Some mothers in Europe and elsewhere are deficient in iodine during pregnancy. In the past, children that lacked thyroid hormone were doomed to become cretins, hence the title of the film in French. But the scientists say that a bigger problem is the human body’s inability to distinguish between iodine and traces of synthetic chemicals in our bodies which have a similar molecular structure. When producing thyroid hormone, the body sometimes mistakes iodine with traces of fluorine, chlorine and bromine released from the families of chemicals containing these elements. Many man-made chemical families contain these elements and find their way into the body.

Everyday exposure to these multiple chemical families is ubiquitous. Chlorine-based chemicals include PCBs and the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which is used extensively in agricultural crop spraying today (5). Chemicals in the fluorine family include perfluorinated compounds found in the coatings of non-stick cooking utensils, such as Teflon, and brominated flame retardants are widely used in certain fabrics and foam furnishings. The TV film directors, Sylvie Gilman (6) and Thierry de Lestrade identify what they see as the solutions to this silent onslaught on our brains. They say that scientists, politicians and an informed public, working together, can push for more effective regulation of toxic chemicals and a simple and cheap public health programme to address iodine deficiency. Meanwhile, they recommend that viewers avoid bisphenols, perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, triclosan, pesticides and flame retardants contained in certain toys, clothes, food, plastics, cooking utensils and cleaning products. These chemicals are believed to be particularly harmful to the brains of the foetus and young children. A website about the documentary provides information on prevention. (7)


Notes:

1. Link to the documentary on the ARTE television website https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/069096-000-A/demain-tous-cretins/After the screening in French and German, the film will be available to download in full in both languages. An English version has been produced and is currently being promoted to English-speaking TV channels; the trailer in English is available here https://vimeo.com/yuzuproductions/brainsindanger-trailer.

2. EU pesticide legislation adopted in 2009 banned endocrine disrupting chemicals but criteria for defining these compounds are needed prior to implementation. The European Commission’s currently proposed criteria are “not sufficient to protect human health and the environment, not grounded in science, and unlawful”, says EDC-Free Europe, in which HEAL in a leading member (http://www.edc-free-europe.org/).

3. Barbara Demeneix is professor of the laboratory of evolution of endocrine regulation at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. The documentary is inspired by her latest book “Toxic Cocktail” (See http://env-health.org/news/latest-news/article/book-review-toxic-cocktail-how) (French translation “Cocktail Toxique” was published 25 October 2017) .

4. The film refers to studies in several European countries that show a steady decline in IQ year on year, and by at least two IQ points each decade. Similarly, experts describe how rates of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism are increasing. For example, the number of children diagnosed with autism in California has increased by 600% since 1990. In USA as a whole, rates have increased from one child in 500 to one in 68.

5. The film provides evidence that exposure to chlorpyrifos may cause brain damage in children. Head scans showed structural changes in the brains of the most exposed children. The documentary is being released just a few days after the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and hazardous substances and wastes raised the alarm bell on the adverse effects of pesticides – on children’s health: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/06/the-eu-and-glyphosate-its-time-to-put-childrens-health-before-pesticides

6. Sylvie Gilman was a member of the jury awarding the Health and Environment Alliance’s first Health and Environment Film Prize at the International Festival of Environmental Films (FIFE) in Paris in February 2013.

7. The website about the documentary (https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/069096-000-A/demain-tous-cretins/) includes information on how to prevent exposure, including materials from Health and Environment Alliance.

Originally posted on 7 November 2017

About HEAL

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

Members

HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

Contact us

Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
28 Boulevard Charlemagne
B1000 Brussels, Belgium
Phone: +32 2 234 3640
Fax: +32 2 234 3649
E-mail: info@env-health.org
Press: Elke Zander

Direct telephone numbers: HEAL team page.

HEAL website privacy policy