A few decades back one of the commonest environmental causes of intellectual disabilities among babies was exposure to lead and mercury. A new study reveals that while exposure to these heavy metals is on the decline, there is risk of other toxic chemicals. Researchers have found that chemicals present in pesticides and flame retardants could be causing over a million cases of intellectual disabilities among babies between 2001 and 2016. Image Credit: PiggingFoto / Shutterstock
The study titled, “Trends in neurodevelopmental disability burden due to early life chemical exposure in the USA from 2001 to 2016: A population-based disease burden and cost analysis,” was published in the latest issue of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology this week.
Researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine specifically noted and many cases of low IQ and cognitivie disabilities among children were linked to these toxic chemicals. They wrote that as many as 27 million IQ points were lost in 2001 and 2002 and now in 2015 and 2016, there has been a 9 million loss of IQ points due to exposure to these toxic chemicals. Despite the drop in the number of cases with intellectual disabilities due to environmental toxin exposure, the researchers warn that too many children are still being affected.
The team of researchers explain that there has been a shift in the culprit chemicals that may be harming the babies. They noted that flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs), and organophosphate pesticides have become one of the biggest threats to cognitivie development in children. Their extensive analysis showed that there was an increase from 67 percent to 81 percent of cognitive loss between 2001 and 2016 due to organophosphate pesticides and PDBE exposure among the study population.
Lead researcher Abigail Gaylord, MPH, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone explained, “Our findings suggest that our efforts to reduce exposure to heavy metals are paying off, but that toxic exposures in general continue to represent a formidable risk to Americans' physical, mental, and economic health. Unfortunately, the minimal policies in place to eliminate pesticides and flame retardants are clearly not enough.”
She and her colleagues explained that most of the toxic chemicals they analyzed in their study were found at home. They added that while some are part of the furniture and upholstery, others are part of the canned foods including tuna fish etc. These toxic chemicals, they added, could damage not only the brain and its development but also damage hormone secreting endocrine organs such as the thyroid. If the hormonal balance of these organs is affected, there is also a risk of impaired brain development explain the researchers. These may lead to behavioural problems and also learning difficulties and autism. Related Stories
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