New report suggests that many common chemicals may endanger developing brains in both fetuses and children of all ages. Here’s what you should know to keep your kids safe.
We all want to do everything we can to protect our children from harm, but the sad fact is that the modern world is awash in chemicals that are dangerous to our health – and especially to the health of our kids.
While we can’t necessarily avoid all of these common chemicals, we can take steps to minimize their impact on our children’s health.
The first step is knowing what these chemicals are, and where our kids are being exposed to them.
A recent study from researchers at the University of Illinois found cause for alarm in the regular use of common chemicals and elements such as:
- Lead and mercury (found in paint – especially in old houses and imported toys – as well as some fish and other seafood)
- Organophosphate pesticides used in agriculture and home gardens
- Phthalates, found in pharmaceuticals, plastics (including children’s toys, cups, and even some baby bottles) and personal care products such as lotions and creams
- Flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (found in some children’s fleece clothing and pajamas)
- Air pollutants produced by the combustion of wood and fossil fuels
- Polychlorinated biphenyls, once used as coolants and lubricants in transformers and other electrical equipment, also are of concern. PCBs were banned in the U.S. in 1977, but can persist in the environment for decades.
The report, published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, explains that this exposure can even occur in-utero – impacting a child’s brain even before birth.
Some of the common chemicals of concern, such as phthalates and PBDEs, are known to interfere with normal hormone activity. For example, most pregnant women in the U.S. will test positive for exposure to phthalates and PBDEs, both of which disrupt thyroid hormone function.
Phthalates also interfere with steroid hormone activity. Studies link exposure to certain phthalates with attention deficits, lower IQ and conduct disorders in children. “Phthalates are everywhere; they’re in all kinds of different products. We’re exposed to them every day,” professor and researcher Susan Schantz said.
The report criticizes current regulatory lapses that allow chemicals to be introduced into people’s lives with little or no review of their effects on fetal and child health.
“For most common chemicals, we have no idea what they’re doing to children’s neurodevelopment,” Schantz said. “They just haven’t been studied.”