MPA Blog - December 2013

Environmental Toxicants and the Brain?
William Bloom, Ph.D., MPA Child and Family Committee
Juliana Roth, The Ecology Center, Ann Arbor, Mi
 
The legacy of lead poisoning is decades old in the United States. Healthy children exposed to lead paint suffered permanent brain damage, resulting in problems with learning and speech. Even worse, some children’s blood concentration of lead reached fatal levels. Such a devastating loss of healthy life should, at the very least, inspire a commitment from chemical companies and retailers to be responsible for the safety of products.
 
Our current national chemical policy provides little incentive for a company to pay attention to how chemicals affect human health. It is up to outside agencies to prove a chemical harmful after it’s in use rather than requiring a preventative analysis. Such conditions set the stage for another lead catastrophe. Chemical companies play an active role in covering up the harmful nature of these chemicals and create campaigns to promote their use.
 
And sadly, it’s already underway. This generation’s chemicals of concern are largely those that affect the endocrine system. These chemicals, known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, are responsible for hormonal changes in the body that result in increase chances of developing cancer, neurological development problems, birth defects and reproductive disorders. Women in fields where there is a known exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors were found to have 36% higher rate of breast cancer.
 
The issue of toxic environments is crucial for those in a field involved in studying the brain, human development, and behavioral disorders. What we eat, where we live, and what’s in the products we use has a drastic effect on the proper functioning of the brain. Behavioral problems in children may be rooted to the way these chemicals are interacting with their development. More and more studies are showing that autism may also be linked to exposure to toxics.
 
It’s critical for professionals to take an active role in educating their colleagues on how the environment is connected to a healthy psychological life. Not only do the diseases linked to environmental toxics cause stress and grief in people’s lives, but some of the very disorders psychologists study and treat may also have an environmental root.
 
Stay tuned to this new blog series to learn more about specific chemicals and the emerging science linking them to neurological and developmental disorders and diseases.
 
MPA partners with other environmentally sensitive healthcare groups as part of The Ecology Center’s Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health (MNCEH).  This blog is written in partnership with MNCEH.