Posted on Jan 16, 2020, 1 p.m.
Research from New York University shows that pesticides and flame retardants may pose a threat to children’s IQ which may be more than lead or mercury as exposure to flame retardants resulted in a loss of 162 million IQ points among children from 2001-2016; and these chemicals are being called hit and runs toxins because the damage can be sudden and can’t be reserved.
While heavy metals such as mercury and lead may be less of a threat to the developing brains of children than they were two decades ago new manaces are taking their place: flame retardants and pesticides.
A study published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology investigated four chemicals known to impact the brain of a developing child the most: polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants, pesticides, lead, and mercury; these toxic chemicals and pollutants are described as being hit and run because once a child is exposed there is no reversing the damage.
"Kids' brain development is exquisitely vulnerable," co-author Leo Trasande, a pediatrician and public-health researcher at NYU told Business Insider. "If you disrupt, even with subtle effects, the way a child's brain is wired, you can have permanent and lifelong consequences."
Lead was found to cost American children 78 million IQ points during the 15 year study period; pesticides were found to cost 27 million IQ points, mercury was found to cause a loss of 2.5 million IQ points, and flame retardants were found to cause an astounding loss of 162 million IQ points during those years.
This study found that among children exposed to toxins from 2001-2016 the proportion of IQ loss due to the exposure to flame retardants and pesticides increased from 67% to an alarming 87%. Flame retardants can commonly be found in electronics and household furniture while pesticides can be consumed on food/produce and exposure outdoor near gardens and park areas.
"What we found was quite striking," Trasande said. "We know that there is no safe level of lead exposure. The same is true for methylmercury, pesticides, and flame retardants."
There is also an economic cost to childhood brain damage, according to the researchers each individual IQ point is worth roughly 2% of a child’s lifetime economic productivity, meaning if a child could potentially earn $1 million in their lifetime they would lose $20,000 for every IQ point lost. According to this study IQ loss due to combined exposure to pesticides, flame retardants, mercury and lead cost America around $6 trillion from 2001-2016.
"A kid's brain power is the engine of our economy," Trasande said. "If a child comes back from school with one less IQ point, maybe mom or the parent might not notice. But if 100,000 children come back with one less IQ point, the entire economy notices."
It is well documented that exposure to lead and mercury can result in childhood brain damage, many of the hideouts for these chemicals included leaded gasoline, lead paint and mercury emission from coal fired power plants.
The Environmental Agency has set standards to try and phase out lead, and reduce mercury emissions, but lead paint can still be found in houses built before 1978 and many plants still do not meet the requirements set by the agency. There have been even fewer efforts to regulate flame retardants and pesticides.
Around 37 pesticides have been banned by the agency though there are over 500 that have been used in America, another 97 were voluntarily withdrawn by the manufacturers. At least 12 states have adopted legislation to restrict the use of flame retardants in children’s toys, carpeting, and furniture but none of the chemicals are federally banned.
A variety of factors can influence a child’s exposure to a chemical, according to the researchers regulating these chemicals has far lower long term economic cost than the loss of IQ points due to childhood exposure.
"The science has really evolved such that the dose is not the only thing that makes the poison," said Trasande. “Other factors to consider could include the timing and frequency of exposure.”
"We've made less progress in phasing out or banning some of the pesticides of greatest concern," Trasande said. "But there are steps we can take proactively as consumers."
To minimize risk of exposure in your home the researchers suggest opening windows to let dust laced with flame retardants escape, vaumming frequently, using a wet mop to collect chemicals from the floor, and most importantly read labels to help avoid buying furniture, mattresses, clothing, and toys that contain flame retardants such as polyurethane foam. It is also recommended to avoid spraying pesticides on home lawns/plants/gardens, and to switch to certified organic foods which contain far less pesticides.
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