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Children's development derailed by contaminants

A new report from Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Clean Water Fund reveals that children in the womb and after birth are regularly exposed to a wide variety of developmental neurotoxicants… contaminants that interfere with proper development of the nervous system and the brain.

These exposures have grown just as developmental, learning and behavioral disabilities have become an epidemic among children. Estimates indicate that nearly 12% of America's children under the age of 18 suffer from one or more learning, developmental or behavioral disability. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects 6% of all children, while learning disabilities alone may affect 5-10% of children in public schools. Autism has increased in California schools by over 200% between 1987 and 1998.

Some scientists debate whether these numbers are increasing. Increasing or decreasing, say the reports authors, the numbers "suggest a problem of epidemic proportion."

Developmental neurotoxicants commonly encountered in the home or school include a variety of pesticides, for example Dursban and other organophosphates, industrial contaminants (PCBs), solvents in paints, glues and cleaning solutions, and lead. Studies from the laboratory of these and other neurotoxicants show that in animals they can produce alterations in behavior and diminishment of capacity analogous to the learning and behavioral disorders found in America's children today. Exposure in the womb is especially harmful because it is at this early stage of development when the most damage can be done.

While the authors acknowledge that scientific certainty is insufficient to prove a causal link for many of the contaminants, the weight of the evidence available today strongly argues for prudence in protecting children from undue risk. The report provides practical suggestions for ways that families can reduce their risks.

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