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Chemicals Are Harming Our Kids' Brains, Study Warns

Study: Chemicals are causing kids' IQs to dip
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

In today's world, chemicals are pretty much in everything we touch, eat, smell, see ... (And as last week's news revealed, they're even in that 6-inch Veggie Delight we keep getting from Subway.) But a recent study is highlighting just how harmful this new chemical-laden world is for our children—and specifically, their brains.

According to a paper published last Friday in The Lancet, the amount of industrial chemicals, heavy metals and pesticides that negatively impact brain development has doubled over the last few years. And here's why that's so troubling: It's actually causing our kids' IQs to drop.

Speaking to The Huffington Post, one of the study's co-authors, Dr. Philippe Grandjean, calls the current social state we're all in a "silent pandemic" of "chemical brain drain." (Not to scare the crap out of you or anything...)

Among the many "brain drainers" out there are things like methylmercury, lead, arsenic, PCBs, toluene, ethanol, manganese, fluoride, DDT, chlorpyrifos, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated biphenyl ethers—some of which we've all heard before, and others we can barely pronounce.

While these environmental pollutants have been around for awhile, experts are starting to really zero in on what effects they may be having on our kids. Could they be behind the staggering rise in autism we've seen in recent decades? Or the increase in kids diagnosed with ADHD? Maybe so. And consider this: One in six U.S. children are also currently affected by a cognitive or behavioral disorder—a fact that many scientists find hard not to trace back to our shifting environmental dangers.

But among the most alarming findings in the paper is the fact that U.S. children, on average, have lower IQs than they used to. Experts worry that if this continues to dip across the board, it will lead to a generation of slower learners, less "intellectually gifted" members of society and even billions of dollars lost in productivity.

Of course, a lot more research is needed to make any real steps toward change. According to David Bellinger, an expert in children's environmental health at Harvard, "the regulatory process in this country is inherently conservative: You have to prove something is bad [before you can ban it] rather than prove something is good [before you can authorize it]."

But as Grandjean points out, we ought to devote more time and energy into figuring out what is harming our children at the earliest stages. "The brain has to go through very complicated and delicate stages of development [during pregnancy] that have to happen at the right time and in the right sequence. If that doesn't happen, you don't get a second chance," says Grandjean. "That kid is stuck with that brain the rest of his or her life."

One possible solution for now? The paper calls for a new agency to be formed—similar to the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer—that would develop new research and further study the impact the chemicals around us have on our brains.

"We have an ethical duty to protect the next generation," Grandjean says. "In particular, the next generation's brains."

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