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Harvard study blames "silent pandemic" for autism and other disorders

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According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, toxic chemicals could be the reason for the rise in the number of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

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In their report published online in the journal, Lancet Neurology, it warns of a "silent pandemic" of poisoning as a result of limited regulation of toxic chemicals.

Some of the disorders mentioned include autism, attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder, dyslexia and other conditions.

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.” --Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health.

The five chemicals focused on previously in a study published in 2006 included lead, methylmercury, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls and toluene. These five chemicals are known to cause brain deficits. But the updated report added six more chemicals: managanese, fluoride, pesticides chlorpyrifos and DDT, a solvent used in dry cleaning called tetrachloroethylene and the flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

Managanese is linked to impaired motor skills and diminished intellectual functioning. Solvents (such as tetrachloroethylene) have been linked to hyperactivity and aggression. Pesticides are known to cause cognitive delays, especially during pregnancy when the developing brain is especially vulnerable.

Researcher Grandjean advocates for making international testing necessary but the American Chemistry Council has labeled the study's conclusions as "flawed."

“What is most concerning is that the authors focus largely on chemicals and heavy metals that are well understood to be inappropriate for children’s exposure, are highly regulated and/or are restricted or being phased out. They then extrapolate that similar conclusions should be applied to chemicals that are more widely used in consumer products without evidence to support their claims. Such assertions do nothing to advance true scientific understanding and only create confusion and alarm.” -- The American Chemistry Council

For families seeking more information about the links of a toxic environment and chemical safety, they can visit the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families website:



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