- 90% of pregnant women in the US had detectable levels of 62 chemicals
- Chemicals disrupt hormone activity and damage developing brains
- Are introduced into people’s lives with litte or no review, experts warn
Common chemicals found in plastic bottles, pollution and even makeup are harming the brains of foetuses and growing children, according to new research.
Scientists said the chemicals can lower children’s IQs and are being introduced into people’s lives with little review of the associated dangers.
Chemicals that are of most concern include lead and mercury, organophosphate pesticides used in agriculture and gardens, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) found in flame retardants, and phthalates, found in plastic bottles, food containers and beauty products.
Flame retardants, and traffic pollution and from wood smoke can also affect brain development in both the womb and in childhood, according to the new report.
Common chemicals are harming the brains of foetuses and growing children, according to new research. They include lead and mercury; organophosphate pesticides used in agriculture and home gardens and phthalates, found in pharmaceuticals, plastics and personal care products
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), once used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment, are also of concern.
Although these were banned in the US in 1977 and in the UK in 1981, they can linger in the environment for decades.
The use of Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) is also restricted in the US and Europe due to concerns over health risks – but again, the chemicals still exist in the atmosphere.
Scientists are studying infants and their mothers to determine whether prenatal exposure to phthalates and other chemicals leads to changes in the brain or behaviour.
Professor Susan Schantz, of the University of Illinois, said: ‘These chemicals are pervasive, not only in air and water, but in everyday consumer products that we use on our bodies and in our homes.
‘Reducing exposures to toxic chemicals can be done, and is urgently needed to protect today’s and tomorrow’s children.
She continued: ‘The human brain develops over a very long period of time, starting in gestation and continuing during childhood and even into early adulthood.
‘But the biggest amount of growth occurs during prenatal development.
‘The neurons are forming and migrating and maturing and differentiating and if you disrupt this process, you’re likely to have permanent effects.’
Professor Frederica Perera, at Columbia University, added: ‘There is overwhelming scientific evidence that early-life exposure to neurotoxic chemicals is contributing to a host of developmental problems in children.
These widely available chemicals are introduced into people’s lives with little or no review of their effects on foetal and child health, University of Illinois experts said (file photo)
‘Exposure to these chemicals is pervasive, warranting action now to reduce their production and use.’
Some of the chemicals of concern are known to interfere with normal hormone activity.
Most pregnant women in the US test positive for exposure to phthalates and PBDEs, both of which disrupt thyroid hormone function, the researchers found.
Professor Schantz said: ‘Thyroid hormone is involved in almost every aspect of brain development, from formation of the neurons to cell division.
‘It regulates many of the genes involved in nervous system development.’
Past studies have linked exposure to certain phthalates with attention deficits, lower IQ and behavioural disorders in children.
Nearly all pregnant women in the US had detectable levels of these chemicals in their bodies (file photo)
The report criticises current regulatory lapses in the US that allow chemicals to be introduced into people’s lives with little or no review of their effects on foetal and child health.
Professor Schantz said: ‘Phthalates are everywhere, they are in all kinds of different products. We’re exposed to them every day.
‘For most chemicals, we have no idea what they’re doing to children’s neurodevelopment. They just haven’t been studied.’
He added that if something looks like it may be a risk, scientists feel policymakers should be willing to make a decision that the chemical could be harmful and stop its production.
She said: ‘We shouldn’t have to wait 10 or 15 years, allowing countless children to be exposed to it in the meantime, until we’re positive it’s a bad actor.’
The research was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives,
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