Experts call for global overhaul of industrial chemical regulations

February 14, 2014

In a Review published in The Lancet Neurology, two of the world's leading experts on the link between environment and children's health are sounding the alarm on the dangers of industrial chemicals.

They are calling on countries to transform their risk-assessment procedures in order to protect children from everyday toxins that may be causing a global "silent epidemic" of brain development disorders.

Findings from the Review indicate that in the past 7 years, the number of recognised chemical causes of neurodevelopmental disorders has doubled from six to 12, while the list of chemicals that are known to damage the human brain, but are not regulated to protect children's health, has also expanded from 202 to 214. These hazardous chemicals are found in everyday items such as clothing, furniture, and toys.

"Current chemical regulations are woefully inadequate to safeguard children whose developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment", explains Dr Philippe Grandjean from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "Until a legal requirement is introduced for manufacturers to prove that all existing and all new chemicals are non-toxic before they enter the marketplace, along the lines of the European Union's reformed chemicals law REACH, we are facing a pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity."

Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and cerebral palsy affect one in six children worldwide. Growing evidence strongly links childhood exposures to such as mercury, lead, and certain solvents and pesticides to higher rates of these and suggests that more stringent controls could generate billions of dollars in savings. The estimated yearly costs of in the USA, for example, are about US$50 billion, and the annual costs of methylmercury toxicity are roughly US$5 billion.

Worryingly, say Grandjean and co-author Dr Philip Landrigan from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, this might only be the tip of the iceberg: "The vast majority of the more than 80 000 industrial chemicals in widespread use in the USA have never been tested for their toxic effects on the developing foetus or child. Exposure to these chemicals during early development can cause brain injury at levels much lower than those affecting adults, and the real impact on children's health is just beginning to be uncovered."

The two main obstacles impeding efforts to restrict chemicals that threaten children's health are the large gaps in testing chemicals for neurodevelopmental toxicity and the huge amount of proof required before regulation is enacted.

"The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to ensure mandatory developmental neurotoxicity testing of existing and before they come into the marketplace", says Landrigan. "Such a precautionary approach would mean that early indications of a potentially serious toxic effect would lead to strong regulations, which could be relaxed should subsequent evidence show less harm."

The authors propose a new international prevention strategy that would put the onus on chemical producers instead of government to demonstrate that their products are low risk using a similar testing process to pharmaceuticals, and a new international regulatory agency to coordinate and accelerate these measures.

They conclude, "The total number of neurotoxic substances now recognised almost certainly represents an underestimate of the true number of developmental neurotoxicants that have been released into the global environment. Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries."

Explore further: US must strengthen efforts to restrict chemicals that threaten health, say researchers

More information: "Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity," Philippe Grandjean, Philip J. Landrigan, Lancet Neurology, online February 15, 2014. www.thelancet.com/journals/lan … (13)70278-3/abstract

Related Stories

US must strengthen efforts to restrict chemicals that threaten health, say researchers

May 4, 2011
With growing evidence of the link between exposure to toxic chemicals and chronic diseases, especially in children, the United States needs to step up its efforts to protect the public from hazardous chemicals, say researchers ...

List of the top 10 toxic chemicals suspected to cause autism and learning disabilities

April 25, 2012
An editorial published today in the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives calls for increased research to identify possible environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in America's ...

Toxic chemicals found in children's clothes, shoes, Greenpeace says

January 14, 2014
Children's clothing and shoes made by a dozen globally-recognised brands have been found to contain potentially harmful chemicals, Greenpeace said Tuesday.

Estimated costs of environmental disease in children at $76.6 billion per year

May 4, 2011
In three new studies published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs, Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers reveal the staggering economic impact of toxic chemicals and air pollutants in the environment, and ...

Recommended for you

Navigational view of the brain thanks to powerful X-rays

October 18, 2017
If brain imaging could be compared to Google Earth, neuroscientists would already have a pretty good "satellite view" of the brain, and a great "street view" of neuron details. But navigating how the brain computes is arguably ...

'Wasabi receptor' for pain discovered in flatworms

October 18, 2017
A Northwestern University research team has discovered how scalding heat and tissue injury activate an ancient "pain" receptor in simple animals. The findings could lead to new strategies for analgesic drug design for the ...

Scientists may have found a cause of dyslexia

October 18, 2017
A duo of French scientists said Wednesday they may have found a physiological, and seemingly treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye.

Team finds training exercise that boosts brain power

October 17, 2017
One of the two brain-training methods most scientists use in research is significantly better in improving memory and attention, Johns Hopkins University researchers found. It also results in more significant changes in brain ...

Worms learn to smell danger

October 17, 2017
Worms can learn. And the ways they learn and respond to danger could lead scientists to new treatments for people with neurodegenerative diseases.

'Busybody' protein may get on your nerves, but that's a good thing

October 17, 2017
Sensory neurons regulate how we recognize pain, touch, and the movement and position of our own bodies, but the field of neuroscience is just beginning to unravel this circuitry. Now, new research from the Salk Institute ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

The Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2014
There is no global government. And you better pray to whatever you hold holy that there never is.
Anonym
not rated yet Feb 15, 2014
Interesting that this article fails to mention the scientists also cited sodium fluoride, the supposed cavity-fighting ingredient in toothpaste, as one of the 12 toxic chemicals. What's up with that, MedExpress?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.