Chemicals are Making Children Less Intelligent

In the December 2003 Issue of Children's Learning Environments, we wrote about the issue of the use of chemicals and cleaners in child care and Head Start programs. You can find this issue on our web-site by clicking here.

A briefing just out from the World Wildlife Fund, based on recent scientific research from across Europe, shows that brain development in children living in industrialized European countries has been affected by chemicals that have accumulated in the mother's body over years, and have been passed on to the babies in the womb. The effects include worse memory, reduced visual recognition, less well developed movement skills, and lower IQ scores.

The report states that most of the 70,000 man-made chemicals on the market have not been tested for neuro-toxicity. One of the most toxic chemicals found was flame retardant which is found on car seats, carpeting, plastic products and furniture in child care centers. There are concerns that chemicals may play a role in the rapid decrease in autism disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity. The World Wildlife Fund is calling for European legislation to phase out chemicals that are persistent and that accumulate in humans. For full report on the study click here.

One of the most questioned chemicals is deca-bromodiphenyl ether (deca-BDE). Just several weeks ago, scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute in Oslo announced that they had found traces of deca-BDE in the body fat of polar bears and sea gulls on Svalbard, a Norwegian Arctic archipelago hundreds of miles from any major sources of the compound. This discovery shows that the chemical persists in the environment, just like PCBs which were banned years ago, and can be carried by winds and currents to remote regions where it accumulates in wildlife. Beorge Brenda, Norwegian Environmental Minister, warned that deca-BDE is set to "become the PCB of the future." Deca-BDE is not chemically bound to the products to which it is added as a flame retardant, so it easily escapes into household, office and child care dust.

Meanwhile on the home front, we have very little research here in the United States to substantiate the risks of toxic cleaners and substances. The Mount Sinai study published in 2002 in the journal Public Health Reports, found an average of 91 toxic substances and traces of 167 chemicals in all in nine participants. In 2003, the Center for Disease Control testing a much larger sample, found traces of 116 chemicals in over 2,000 Americans. The levels were highest among children and minorities. Research is spotty because chemical manufacturers - unlike the makers of new drugs, food additives and pesticides - are not required to prove that their products are safe. Even the National Academy of Sciences has estimated that 28% of neurobehavioral disorders in the United States can be attributed to the environment or the interplay of the environment and genetics.

Do your part to protect our children and follow the guidelines previously discussed in the December issue of our eNewsletter on choosing safer chemicals for child care use. And please urge your parents to write letters on these issues to their elected officials. We can't keep poisoning our children!!