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Steingraber: Industrial Chemicals Causing Learning Disorders, Creating Pandemic

02.28.11 Steingraber: Industrial Chemicals Causing Learning Disorders, Creating Pandemic

avoiding chemicals

Sandra Steingraber, mother, scientist, and author of several books about the impacts of industrial chemicals on children and the environment, warns us that we are facing a silent pandemic—which is increasing learning disorders, developmental delays, and special education and medical costs at alarming rates.

In this important article from Orion, Sandra takes us through some of her parenting decisions, starting with selecting a preschool for their daughter. One of the factors was the play structure behind the school. Pressure treated wood like that used in decks and play sets, before 2004, were made with arsenic. Children who played with them frequently over their lifetimes had elevated cancer risks. So she and her husband selected another school. I’m left wondering about all the kids in the first preschool, and all the kids nation wide still playing on old, arsenic containing play sets.

The article discusses the increasing rates of ADHD, ADD, and autism in the U.S. and how scientists are beginning to look more closely at how environmental exposures, particularly early in pregnancy, might effect a child later in life. The unsustainable costs of these disorders to families, schools and society are shared with eye opening detail.

She goes on to cite a paper, from The Lancet, which shared a stark and clear message in its summary of developmental neurotoxicants. According to the article:

“The Lancet paper is one of the most comprehensive summaries available to date (though the EPA is preparing to release its own list of developmental neurotoxicants in early 2011). Parents struggling to pay tutors, tuition bills, and school taxes—who are, right now, clearing off a spot on the kitchen counter to sit down and offer help with homework—might consider taking a look at this compilation, particularly the review’s central conclusion: 

The combined evidence suggests that neurodevelopmental disorders caused by industrial chemicals have created a silent pandemic in modern society.” (bolds are mine)

This last sentence should give us all pause. Industrial chemicals are causing a pandemic, The Lancet tells us, and not many people are taking notice.

Sandra takes us through an exploration of how successful banning lead has been in reducing rates of mental retardation, and how doctors and researchers had known about the link between lead and developmental delays for decades before it was banned. Why are we waiting to ban chemicals and neurotoxins we already know are causing harm?

 She ends the article with a call to action.  Parents shouldn’t be put in the position of having to constantly protect their children from the unnecessary poisons that surround them.

“So don’t give me any more shopping tips or lists of products to avoid. Don’t put neurotoxicants in my furniture and my food and then instruct me to keep my children from breathing or eating them. Instead, give me federal regulations that assess chemicals for their ability to alter brain development and function before they are allowed access to the marketplace. Give me a functioning developmental neurotoxicant screening program, with validated protocols. Give me chemical reform based on precautionary principles. Give me an agricultural system that doesn’t impair our children’s learning abilities or their futures. Give me an energy policy based on wind and sun.” 

Amen to that. Sandra has clearly identified the human, financial, educational and medical costs of this industrial chemical pandemic. And she explains in her call to action what exactly must be done to stop it.  Now, if only we (and our lawmakers) will listen to her wise recommendations, and act on them.

image:  Kurt Budliger Photography

cross posted on Non-Toxic Kids

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