Toxic Threats to Child Development

Nearly one in five (17%) children in the United States has been diagnosed with one or more developmental, learning or behavioral disability. There is a growing consensus that disorders including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism are increasing in frequency. These disorders have widespread societal impacts, from health and education costs to the repercussions of criminal behavior. Research demonstrates that pervasive substances such as mercury, lead, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, and others, are toxic to the developing child’s brain (neurotoxic).

Human exposure to neurotoxic substances is global. Tests on humans show that these chemicals now reside in our  bones and other organs, blood, breast milk, sperm, fatty tissue and urine. As our knowledge about the toxicity of these chemicals has increased, the “safe” threshold of exposure has been continuously revised downward.

Human development takes place within complex physical, genetic, social and cultural environments. This report examines the contribution of toxic chemicals to developmental, learning and behavioral disabilities.

Included in the report are:
  • A “primer” on normal brain development, and how toxic chemicals can alter that development
  • The spectrum of developmental disabilities and their multiple causes, including genetics and gene-environment interactions
  • Profiles of known and suspected developmental neurotoxicants
  • The scope of the chemical problem
  • And much more including charts, graphs, illustrations and “spotlight” features on such things as community activism around autism and others

In Harm’s Way
This report was prepared by Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility for a joint educational project with Clean Water Fund. Primary goals of the project include the examination of environmental contributors to learning, behavioral an developmental disabilities, and education about the preventable nature of these exposures. Release date: May 2000

Funding has been provided by the John Merck Fund, the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the Mitchell Kapor Foundation and the Alida R. Messinger Charitable Lead Trust.

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