Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

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Cleaning Up Our Kids’ Brains

7/6/2011 5:27:18 PM

Tags: children, health, neurotoxins, chemicals, politics, science, environment, Orion, Keith Goetzman

Playing in puddle

Children growing up today are bombarded by a host of chemical compounds, and we’re only beginning to understand how this is affecting their health and development. Sandra Steingraber writes eloquently in Orion about the “mind games” the worst neurotoxic chemicals are playing with our children’s developing brains, and the ways in which our policy is failing them:

Current laws do not require the systematic screening of chemicals for their ability to cause brain damage or alter the pathways of brain growth, and only about 20 percent of the 3,000 chemicals produced in high volume in the United States have been tested for developmental toxicity of any kind.

Steingraber adapted the essay from her new book Raising Elijah, which neatly blends her observations as a biologist, an environmentalist, and a mother. She’s doing all that an eco- and health-conscious mom can do to avoid exposing her kids to nasty neurotoxins, but knows that ultimately that she can’t do it all alone:

Don’t give me any more shopping tips or lists of products to avoid. Don’t put neurotoxicants in my furniture and my food and then instruct me to keep my children from breathing or eating them. Instead, give me federal regulations that assess chemicals for their ability to alter brain development and function before they are allowed access to the marketplace. Give me a functioning developmental neurotoxicant screening program, with validated protocols. Give me chemical reform based on precautionary principles. Give me an agricultural system that doesn’t impair our children’s learning abilities or their futures. Give me an energy policy based on wind and sun.  

A new federally funded study may provide some of the data that’s so badly needed to move in this direction. The National Children’s Study is a large-scale, long-term study that will track 100,000 people over the next 21 years, measuring many of the environmental factors that affect their health and well-being. In places like Ramsey County, Minnesota, where the local arms of the National Children’s Study was launched last week, researchers are enrolling women who are pregnant or likely to be pregnant, then conducting detailed studies that include extensive interviews, blood and urine samples, even dust samples from household vacuum bags.

On the one hand, 21 years is a long time to wait for answers. On the other hand, it’s time we got started. We’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do. 

Sources: Orion, Raising Elijah, National Children’s Study, Star Tribune 

Image by ytang3, licensed under Creative Commons. 



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