DDT exposure more common in people with Alzheimer’s

Rutgers researchers are studying a link between the pesticide – which was banned in the U.S. decades ago but is still used elsewhere in the world – and the degenerative brain disease


People who had been exposed to the pesticide DDT were more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than those with no traces of the chemical in their blood, researchers found in a new study.

The observation doesn’t prove DDT causes Alzheimer’s, or that people who have been exposed to the chemical will develop the degenerative brain disease, they said.

But in the complex picture of Alzheimer’s – which has many potential genetic and lifestyle contributors – this may be one more piece to consider, according to lead author Jason Richardson.

“If there was a single environmental factor that was contributing to any (neurologic) diseases … that kind of thing is very easy to find. That’s not what we’re saying here,” said Richardson, from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey.


“More than likely you’re looking at complex gene-environment interactions. What we found really gives us a starting off point,” he told Reuters Health. “Now we can use that information to try to understand who is at risk, when and ultimately, why.”

DDT was banned in the U.S. in the 1970s, but is still used in some other countries. The World Health Organization supports using the pesticide to help eradicate malaria under certain circumstances.

In a prior small study, Richardson and colleagues had found levels of DDE – a broken-down form of DDT – were higher than usual in the blood of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

To learn more, they analyzed blood samples from 86 people with Alzheimer’s and 79 people without the disease.


On average, DDE levels were almost four times higher among people with Alzheimer’s than in the comparison group, the researchers found. DDE was detected at any level in 80 percent of people with Alzheimer’s and in 70 percent of people without Alzheimer’s, according to findings published in JAMA Neurology.

A follow-up lab experiment suggested that DDE increases levels of a protein that is known to result in the brain plaques seen in Alzheimer’s patients, Richardson said.

But that still leaves many questions unanswered, he noted.

“Obviously we want to replicate this with a much larger number of samples and people,” Richardson said.


The researchers also plan to explore DDE in other populations, since the participants in this study were generally patients at Alzheimer’s treatment centers and their family members.

Alzheimer’s disease researcher Kathleen Hayden of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said studies that measure DDE levels in large groups of healthy people would also be helpful. “We’d want to follow people prospectively and see whether or not they develop dementia,” Hayden, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

In an editorial, two neurologists point out there are no data to suggest that regions of the world where people have very high levels of DDE also have more Alzheimer’s disease.

“These conclusions should be considered as preliminary until there is independent confirmation in other populations,” write Dr. Steven T. DeKosky of the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville and Dr. Sam Gandy from the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York.


For now, calling DDE a marker for who is at risk of Alzheimer’s is “going just a step too far,” Hayden agreed.

“DDT exposure is not destiny that you’re definitely going to get Alzheimer’s disease. These are things that might increase your risk,” she said.

Still, she thinks there is reason to be wary of DDT and related pesticides.

“These agents affect the central nervous system. That’s a reason why they should be of interest to people who study neurodegenerative diseases,” Hayden said.

“For myself, I’m concerned that pesticides are used in such abundance these days, and we don’t really know what the effects of these things are, long term.”

Lead. Mercury. Arsenic. PCBs. Toluene. These are common chemicals that researchers know can damage developing brains.

Philippe Grandjean is an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. (Philippe Grandjean)

New research finds exposure to fluoride in drinking water and several other common chemicals in early life diminishes brain function in children. Study lead author, Philippe Grandjean, tells host Steve Curwood fluoride, flame retardants, pesticides and and fuel additives may be affecting children’s intelligence.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. Lead. Mercury. Arsenic. PCBs. Toluene. These are common chemicals that researchers know can damage developing brains. Now a new study in the journal Lancet Neurology evaluates earlier research involving six different but also widely used chemicals that seem to affect brain function.

Perhaps most startling, this review raises more questions about fluoride in drinking water, suggesting that despite its dental benefits, fluoride could permanently impair cognitive development in children. The additional chemicals documented as neurotoxins in this article include PERC, which is used as dry cleaning fluid, manganese, used as a gasoline additive, certain fire retardants, and the insecticides Dursban and DDT. Dr. Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health, was the lead author.

GRANDJEAN: We looked at every single industrial chemical that we could find information on, and our conclusion is that we’re now up to 12 industrial chemicals where we have evidence that they can damage the human brain development.

CURWOOD: When you say ‘damage human brain development,’ what do you mean?

GRANDJEAN: Well, what we have seen with these chemicals with that the effects may be cognitive, meaning that they may relate to higher brain functions, they may relate to motor control, they may relate to a behavior. There is evidence that they can also be related to depression, so we’re talking about a range of different aspects of brain function, if a child is exposed to the chemical during early life or if the exposure happens in the mother’s womb, then we can see later on that the child does not have optimal brain functioning.

CURWOOD: In the United States, how many children do you estimate are exposed to these chemicals at meaningful levels?

GRANDJEAN: We’re all exposed to levels that can actually interfere with brain development in humans. Of course, it’s a matter of the dose, how much we are exposed, because we get pesticide residues from the fruits and vegetables unless they’re organic, we get mercury even if we avoid tuna and other large fish, we’re still exposed to a little bit of mercury. And my message is let’s minimize those exposures, we know how to do it. Let’s do the best we can as soon as possible, and then do the systematic testing of industrial chemicals so that we can figure out which additional ones to control.

CURWOOD: You say these chemicals are in general circulation, and that virtually everyone is getting exposed to them at meaningful high levels. How do they relate to what we see in terms of the high number of kids with autism, a lot of discussion about ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

GRANDJEAN: Well, we have actually not quite convincing evidence in regard to which chemicals contribute to autism and ADHD, but I suspect that the very same chemicals that are causing the dysfunctions and deficits – where we have convincing evidence – I suspect that the very same chemicals can also trigger the disease development in the kids that end up with, for example, autism. But because the etiology of those diseases is complex we haven’t quite been able to extract the convincing evidence yet.

CURWOOD: What do you think exposure to toxic chemicals is costing our society?

GRANDJEAN: Quite clearly, if a child is losing IQ points, then that child will have a lesser chance of completing high school, getting a higher education, etcetera, and landing a well paying job. So economists are saying that one IQ point is worth about $15,000. If you then look at the lead exposures in this country – exposures to lead – that translates to a loss of about $50 billion dollars per year. Mercury is something like $5 billion dollars, pesticides somewhat more. So this problem is easily 100 billion dollars per year.

CURWOOD: Professor, let’s talk about fluoride. Fluoride is something that I think everyone is familiar with. It’s in toothpaste. It’s in a lot of drinking water. What harm, if any, is this perhaps bringing to children?

GRANDJEAN: Fluoride appears to be just like the other chemicals that damage brain development, but most of that evidence comes from China. We looked at more than 20 studies from China where they have compared children exposed to high fluoride content in the water and low. And on the average, the difference in the performance among those kids was seven IQ points. That’s a sizable difference. And obviously some of the kids have been exposed to substantial fluoride concentrations in water, some of them were just a little bit above what’s in this country, therefore I find that evidence very worrysome, and we need to follow up and determine if there is any risk in regard to fluoride exposure under US conditions.

CURWOOD: How do you think your research is going to impact the regulation of industrial chemicals?

GRANDJEAN: I hope that our findings will be recognized in the US Congress because right now the politicians are discussing how to update the vastly outdated chemicals regulation, the Toxic Substances Control Act from 1979. Compared to regulations in the European Union and countries like Japan and Korea, America is way behind in controlling chemicals and regulating the most toxic ones. I think it’s a positive sign that both of the Senate and the House of Representatives are currently discussing how to modernize this legislation.

CURWOOD: Dr. Philippe Grandjean is co-author of the paper in the Lancet Neurology and a Professor Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health. Thanks so much, Professor.

GRANDJEAN: My pleasure.

Putting the next generation of brains in danger

By Saundra Young, CNN
updated 4:26 PM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
The biggest window of vulnerability to chemicals occurs in utero, during infancy and early childhood, experts say.

The biggest window of vulnerability to chemicals occurs in utero, during infancy and early childhood, experts say.

(CNN) — The number of chemicals known to be toxic to children’s developing brains has doubled over the last seven years, researchers said.

Dr. Philip Landrigan at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Dr. Philippe Grandjean from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, authors of the review published Friday in The Lancet Neurology journal, say the news is so troubling they are calling for a worldwide overhaul of the regulatory process in order to protect children’s brains.

“We know from clinical information on poisoned adult patients that these chemicals can enter the brain through the blood brain barrier and cause neurological symptoms,” said Grandjean.

“When this happens in children or during pregnancy, those chemicals are extremely toxic, because we now know that the developing brain is a uniquely vulnerable organ. Also, the effects are permanent.”

The two have been studying industrial chemicals for about 30 years. In 2006, they published data identifying five chemicals as neurotoxicants — substances that impact brain development and can cause a number of neurodevelopmental disabilities including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, dyslexia and other cognitive damage, they said.

Those five are lead, methylmercury, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and toluene.

Banned in the United States in 1979, PCBs were used in hundreds of products including paint, plastic, rubber products and dyes. Toluene is in household products like paint thinners, detergents, nail polish, spot removers and antifreeze.

7 chemicals in your food

Now, after further review, six more chemicals have been added to the list: manganese; fluoride; tetrachloroethylene, a solvent; a class of chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or flame retardants; and two pesticides, chlorpyrifos, which is widely used in agriculture, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT.

“The continuing research has identified six new chemicals that are toxic to the developing human brain,” said Landrigan. “We’re turning up chemicals at the rate of about one a year that we’re discovering are capable of damaging the developing brain of a human fetus or human infant.”

To examine fluoride, which is in tap water in many areas, Landrigan and Grandjean looked at an analysis of 27 studies of children, mostly in China, who were exposed to fluoride in drinking water at high concentrations. The data, they said, suggests a decline on average of about seven IQ points.

There’s another big concern: “We are very worried that there are a number of other chemicals out there in consumer products that we all contact every day that have the potential to damage the developing brain, but have never been safety tested,” Landrigan said.

“Over the last six or seven years we are actually adding brain toxic chemicals at a greater speed than we are adding toxicity evidence in children’s brains,” Grandjean said.

“At least 1,000 chemicals using lab animals have shown that they somehow interfere with brain function in rodents — rats and mice — and those are prime candidates for regulatory control to protect human developing brains. But this testing has not been done systematically.”

At greatest risk? Pregnant women and small children, according to Grandjean. According to the review, the biggest window of vulnerability occurs in utero, during infancy and early childhood.

The impact is not limited to loss of IQ points.

“Beyond IQ, we’re talking about behavior problems — shortening of attention span, increased risk of ADHD,” Landrigan said.

“We’re talking about emotion problems, less impulse control, (being) more likely to make bad decisions, get into trouble, be dyslexic and drop out of school. … These are problems that are established early, but travel through childhood, adolescence, even into adult life.”

BPA, phthalate exposure may cause fertility problems

It’s not just children: All these compounds are toxic to adults, too. In fact, in 2006 the pair documented 201 chemicals toxic to the adult nervous system, usually stemming from occupational exposures, poisonings and suicide attempts.

The American Chemistry Council, meanwhile, called the review a “rehash” of the authors’ first review.

“This iteration is as highly flawed as the first, as once again the authors ignore the fundamental scientific principles of exposure and potency,” said council spokesman Scott Jensen.

“What is most concerning is that the authors focus largely on chemicals and heavy metals that are well understood to be inappropriate for children’s exposure, are highly regulated and/or are restricted or being phased out. They then extrapolate that similar conclusions should be applied to chemicals that are more widely used in consumer products without evidence to support their claims. Such assertions do nothing to advance true scientific understanding and only create confusion and alarm.”

Landrigan and Grandjean now say all untested chemicals in use and all new chemicals should be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.

This is not a new concept. In 2007, the European Union adopted regulations known as REACH — Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals — to protect human health from risks posed by chemicals. REACH covers all chemicals, placing the burden of proof on companies to prove that any chemicals they make are safe.

“We are behind right now and we’re falling further behind,” Landrigan said. “… I find it very irritating some of the multinational manufacturers are now marketing products in Europe and the U.S. with the same brand name and same label, but in Europe (they) are free of toxic chemicals and in the U.S. they contain toxic chemicals.”

The best example of this, he said, is cosmetics and phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products from cosmetics, perfume, hair spray, soap and shampoos to plastic and vinyl toys, shower curtains, miniblinds, food containers and plastic wrap.

You can also find them in plastic plumbing pipes, medical tubing and fluid bags, vinyl flooring and other building materials. They are used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl.

In Europe, cosmetics don’t contain phthalates, but here in the United States some do.

Phthalates previously were used in pacifiers, soft rattles and teethers. But in 1999, after a push from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, American companies stopped using them in those products.

“We certainly have the capability, it’s a matter of political will,” Landrigan said. “We have tried in this country over the last decade to pass chemical safety legislation but the chemical industry and their supporters have successfully beat back the effort.”

However, the Food and Drug Administration said two of the most common phthalates, — dibutylphthalate, or DBP, used as a plasticizer in products such as nail polishes to reduce cracking by making them less brittle, and dimethylphthalate, or DMP used in hairsprays — are now rarely used in this country.

Diethylphthalate, or DEP, used in fragrances, is the only phthalate still used in cosmetics, the FDA said.

“It’s not clear what effect, if any, phthalates have on human health,” according to the FDA’s website. “An expert panel convened from 1998 to 2000 by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of the National Institute for Environmental Safety and Health, concluded that reproductive risks from exposure to phthalates were minimal to negligible in most cases.”

But Grandjean is unfazed.

“We know enough about this to say we need to put a special emphasis on protecting developing brains. We are not just talking about single chemicals anymore. We are talking about chemicals in general.”

“This does not necessarily mean restrict the use of all chemicals, but it means that they need to be tested whether they are toxic to brain cells or not,” he said.

“We have the test methods and protocols to determine if chemicals are toxic to brain cells. If we look at this globally, we are looking at more than a generation of children — a very high proportion of today’s children have been exposed to lead, mercury and other substances, including substances that have not yet been tested but are suspect of being toxic to brain development.”

The Environmental Working Group is an environmental health research organization that specializes in toxic chemical analysis and has long called for reforms. In 2004, the group tested 10 samples of umbilical cord blood for hundreds of industrial pollutants and found an average of 200 in each sample.

“Here in the U.S., the federal law put in place to ostensibly protect adults and children from exposures to dangerous chemicals, including those that can present serious risks to the brain and nervous systems, has been an abject failure,” said Environmental Working Group spokesman Alex Formuzis.

“The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act has instead been largely responsible for the pollution in people beginning in the womb, where hundreds of industrial contaminants literally bathe the developing fetus.”

Landrigan is recruiting pregnant women for a new study that will test for chemical exposures. He said it’s inevitable that over the next few years more chemicals will be added to the list.

His concern? “The ability to detect these chemicals lags behind the chemical industries’ ability to develop new chemicals and put them into consumer products. That’s why we need new legislation in this country to close that gap.”

“We are lagging behind,” Grandjean said. “And we are putting the next generation of brains in danger.”

Number of chemicals linked to problems such as autism DOUBLES in just seven years

The number of industrial chemicals known to trigger brain development problems like autism has doubled in just seven years, experts warned today.

A new study suggests toxic chemicals may be triggering increases in neurological disabilities among children, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.

The researchers warn that chemical safety checks need to be tightened up around the world to protect our vulnerable youngsters from a ‘silent epidemic’ of brain disorders.

A tractor sprays barley crops: Pesticides are among the toxic chemicals which may be triggering neurological disabilities among children, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia

Their work also found that the list of chemicals known to damage the human brain but not regulated to safeguard children had also risen from 202 to 214.

These substances are found in everyday items including food, clothing, furniture and toys.

‘The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis,’ said Dr Philippe Grandjean, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

‘They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance.

‘Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.’

He and his co-authors are calling for universal legal requirements forcing manufacturers to prove that all existing and new industrial chemicals are non-toxic before they reach the market place.

In the EU, the Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations already impose such rules.

But without them being applied globally, the world faces a ‘pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity’, warned Dr Grandjean.

‘Current chemical regulations are woefully inadequate to safeguard children whose developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment,’ Dr Grandjean pointed out.

Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and cerebral palsy affect one in six children worldwide.

Growing evidence strongly links these conditions to childhood exposure to hazardous chemicals such as mercury, lead, solvents and pesticides, say the scientists writing in the journal The Lancet Neurology.

‘Silent epidemic': Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and cerebral palsy are thought to affect one in six children worldwide

Dr Grandjean and co-author Dr Philip Landrigan from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The vast majority of the more than 80,000 industrial chemicals in widespread use in the US have never been tested for their toxic effects on the developing foetus or child, they argue.

‘The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to ensure mandatory developmental neurotoxicity testing of existing and new chemicals before they come into the marketplace’, said Dr Landrigan.

‘Such a precautionary approach would mean that early indications of a potentially serious toxic effect would lead to strong regulations, which could be relaxed should subsequent evidence show less harm.’

A new international prevention strategy is needed that places the burden of responsibility on chemical producers rather than governments, say the experts.


The report follows up on a similar review conducted by the researchers in 2006 that identified five industrial chemicals as ‘developmental neurotoxicants’ – or chemicals that can cause brain deficits.

It offers updated findings about those chemicals and adds information on six newly recognised ones.

These include manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), the solvent tetrachloroethylene, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers flame retardants.

These six chemicals have been added to a list of five other neurointoxicants – lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene – first identified by the same researchers in 2006.

The study outlines possible links between these newly recognised neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children.

Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills, while solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour and certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.

They conclude: ‘The total number of neurotoxic substances now recognised almost certainly represents an underestimate of the true number of developmental neurotoxicants that have been released into the global environment.

‘Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries.’

Dr Grandjean added: ‘The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international.

‘We have the methods in place to test industrial chemicals for harmful effects on children’s brain development

‘Now is the time to make that testing mandatory.’

But Prof Andy Smith, senior scientist at the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit in Leicester, advised caution over the U.S. study’s shocking findings.

‘The epidemiological studies that this review looked at have reported links between toxicity of synthetic chemicals and brain development differences.

‘However, these studies mostly identify associations rather than causal relationships. As usual thousands of chemicals of “natural” source are not considered.

‘The implication that present exposure to minute levels of many thousands of synthetic chemicals, even as mixtures, are strong drivers of highly complex neurological disorders and intelligence should be considered with reservation.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2560068/Young-risk-silent-epidemic-brain-disorders-Study-finds-growing-number-chemicals-linked-problems-like-autism.html#ixzz2tQVmooTw
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

More Toxic Chemicals Damaging Children’s Brains, New Study Warns

The number of industrial chemicals, heavy metals and pesticides proven capable of derailing normal brain development — and robbing children and society of dollars, IQ points and future potential — has doubled over the last several years, according to a new paper published Friday.

Dr. Philippe Grandjean, one of the co-authors, suggested that the world is facing a “silent pandemic” of “chemical brain drain.”

“We have an ethical duty to protect the next generation,” he said. “In particular, the next generation’s brains.”

As a medical student in the 1970s, Grandjean remembers watching a young Japanese teenager, Shinobu Sakamoto, on the TV news. Sakamoto struggled to walk and talk, but was determined to let the world know about her people’s plight. Many in her fishing village of Minamata had unknowingly consumed seafood heavily tainted with methylmercury. Her mom had done so while Sakamoto was in her womb.

“I was shocked, as they didn’t teach us anything about the effects of pollution on human health” in medical school, recalled Grandjean, chair of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. “That was the moment I decided to do something about it.”

Grandjean has spent the decades since investigating chemicals capable of damaging the developing brain. He started with lead, then mercury. “Every time I turned over a stone, I found something new,” he said.

The line-up has now grown to a dozen “bona fide brain drainers,” said Grandjean. That’s twice as many chemicals as he and co-author Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, listed in their first review of the science in 2006.

Joining methylmercury, lead, arsenic, PCBs, toluene and ethanol, according to the authors’ updated list, are manganese, fluoride, DDT, chlorpyrifos, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated biphenyl ethers.

The consequences of exposure in the womb or during the first years of life to any of these heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, flame retardants and other industrial compounds may not always be as obvious as they were for Sakamoto. But the effects on society, experts warn, can be profound.

An estimated one in six children in the U.S. is now affected by a cognitive or behavioral disorder, and that rate appears to be on the rise. Experts suggest that increases in the number of kids with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for example, can’t be explained by increased awareness or surveillance alone. Environmental pollutants are among the suspects.

Still, the new paper’s concerns go much further.

Reduce one child’s IQ by five points and the difference may be imperceptible. The child might be just a little slower to learn, a little shorter of attention and a little less successful on tests and at work — which economists estimate could equate to $90,000 in lost lifetime earnings.

Reduce the average IQ among all children in the U.S. by five points, however, and the impact is striking: About half as many members of that generation will be “intellectually gifted,” twice as many will be “intellectually impaired,” and billions of dollars of productivity will be lost. And that doesn’t take into account the costs of diagnosis, treatment, special education, incarceration and other indirect costs, such as an estimated rise in traffic accidents attributed to more distracted drivers.

A potential shifting of the bell curve should ring alarms for policymakers, business leaders and parents alike, experts say. They add that the current list of chemical culprits likely represents just the tip of the iceberg.

“The number is going to increase. Right now, it’s just a matter of not having data available,” said David Bellinger, an expert in children’s environmental health at Harvard, who has found associations between three of the brain poisons — lead, methylmercury and organophosphate pesticides (a class that includes the newly added chlorpyrifos) — and drops in the combined nationwide IQ of 23 million, 17 million and 0.3 million points, respectively.

Adding to the problem, Bellinger added, is that “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].”

Representatives of the chemical industry, meanwhile, called the new paper “flawed.”

“The authors focus largely on chemicals and heavy metals that are well understood to be inappropriate for children’s exposure, highly regulated and/or are restricted or being phased out,” the American Chemistry Council told HuffPost in an emailed statement. “They then extrapolate that similar conclusions should be applied to chemicals that are more widely used in consumer products without evidence to support their claims.”

The industry group further emphasized that its members “go to great lengths to ensure products are safe.”

Most of today’s knowledge about chemicals and their effects on the human brain is based on the study of adults — typically those who have suffered occupational exposures or tried to kill themselves. With these data, scientists have tallied a total of 214 neurotoxic chemicals. Another thousand chemicals have been shown to be toxic to animals’ brains, while thousands more have yet to be studied for neurotoxicity.

Science has come a long way since Grandjean’s medical school days, when his professors taught that the fetus is well protected inside the mother’s womb. Scientists now know that hundreds of chemicals can course through umbilical cord blood.

But proving that a specific chemical can harm a child’s growing gray matter is extremely difficult and time-consuming, which experts suggest is why the list currently stands at only 12.

“The default assumption is that if it’s not good for the adult brain, it’s even worse for the child’s,” said Bellinger.

Timing is critical. At certain times while the baby is still inside the womb, brain cells are added at a rate of 250,000 every minute — with each neuron migrating to a specific location in the brain, where it begins building intricate networks with other cells. During the first few years of a baby’s life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second.

“The brain has to go through very complicated and delicate stages of development 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,” said Grandjean, who has recently published a book on the topic titled Only One Chance.

“That kid is stuck with that brain the rest of his or her life,” Grandjean added.

Some children may be more at risk than others, noted Bruce Lanphear, an environmental health expert at Simon Frasier University in British Columbia. “If you grow up in an impoverished neighborhood, you could be exposed to lead, airborne pollutants, tobacco smoke and high levels of pesticides,” he said. “Each of these can chip away at learning abilities or elevate risks of ADHD.”

What’s more, some of these chemicals may magnify the effects of others. Lead, for example, has been shown to cause more harm in children who are also exposed to tobacco smoke or manganese.

Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatric environmental health expert at Seattle Children’s Hospital, noted at least a few things that parents and expecting parents can do to reduce potential neurotoxic exposures inside their home. She recommended avoiding fish known to contain high levels of mercury, such as tuna, as well as minimizing dust, removing shoes when coming indoors and keeping windowsills clean.

She also welcomed the paper’s recommendation of a new agency — much like the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer — that could coordinate research and grade the evidence for a chemical’s propensity to wreak havoc on the developing brain.

Some progress has already been made, including the newly adopted Minamata Convention on Mercury, which addresses human activities contributing to widespread mercury pollution and was inspired by the tragedy in Sakamoto’s village. But, as Grandjean noted, even chemicals long-banned in the U.S., such as chlorpyrifos, are still turning up inside American homes or being exported to developing countries.

“This is like climate change,” he said. “We just can’t afford to do this experiment. Once we finally get enough evidence, it’s too late.”

Grandjean added his fear of a potentially ironic “vicious cycle.”

“If the next generation does not have the cognitive skills that we hope they will have,” said Grandjean, “they will not be able to clean up after us … or care for us.”


The President’s Cancer Panel Report: The Implications for Reforming our Nation’s Policies on Toxic Chemicals




In a groundbreaking report released in May of 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel provided strong confirmation that exposure to toxic chemicals is an important and under-recognized risk factor for cancer, and recommended that the Government take immediate action to reverse this trend. The report, titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now” opens with the observation that “. . . the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” The report goes on to say that our government agencies are “failing to carry out their responsibilities” and concludes with specific recommendations for overhauling our nation’s flawed chemicals management system.

Read More »

Pesticide that killed two girls used at schools in San Diego County


Click Here to Watch Report


SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) — A gopher-control pesticide that killed two little girls in Utah is being used on athletic fields all over San Diego County, according to permits filed with the County of San Diego Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures.

The chemical, aluminum phosphide, is also known as Fumitoxin and it is deadly because it gives off toxic gas.

“You start out not feeling well, kind of sick, throwing up, and then you start to get short of breath, feeling weak and dizzy. Then your heart starts to have problems,” said Dr. Martin Caravati, Medical Director of the Utah Poison Control Center.

In February 2010, Rebecca Kaye Toone, 4, and Rachel Ana Toone, 15 months, died after fumes seeped into their home in Layton, Utah. The deaths led to increased restrictions on the use of Fumitoxin in schoolyards and residential areas. Click Here to Read Article

Karan Zopatti, 51, knows a lot about Fumitoxin. She filed a lawsuit against her San Marcos homeowners’ association for allegedly using the pesticide near her home.  She also believes pesticides contributed to the death of her one-day-old son, Matthew, in 1991.

“I want safety in my house. I want safety for my community. And, I certainly want safety for children,” said Zopatti. “I was completely ignorant until this happened to my family and I don’t want to see this happen to anybody else’s family.”

A restricted materials permit is needed to apply Fumitoxin on athletic fields at schools in San Diego County. The Fumitoxin tablets or pellets are dropped into the gopher tunnels and toxic gas travels throughout the entire underground system, killing the gophers.

“The kids are out there playing, having no idea that these gases can last up to 72 hours,” said Zopatti.

Pest companies are required to apply Fumitoxin when school is not in session, and post warning signs on the fields before and after application.  The signs currently are posted in the Oceanside Unified School District where Fumitoxin is still used.

The Oceanside district has a pesticide application contract with a company in Chino, California named Animal Pest Management Services.

“We use it (Fumitoxin) in seven counties at numerous school districts and never had one incident in 31 years,” said the company’s president, Dan Fox. “I’ve made literally millions of applications. I have 20 guys in the field and they apply it every day, every hour.”

Fox said Fumitoxin is safe and the Utah deaths in 2010 were the result of too much pesticide being applied too close to a home.

“That was horrible. It was tragic,” said Fox. “But I would not use it if was not safe.”

At schools in California, Fumitoxin – under its current restrictions – cannot be applied within 100 feet of a school building. Fox said the toxic gas does a good job of getting rid of gophers in playing fields.

“That’s the reason why school districts hire us, so kids are safe; so when they’re running a 100-yard dash or playing football or soccer, they don’t fall in a hole or break their leg or sprang their ankle,” said Fox.

Fox’s pest company in Chino, along with another firm in Lakeside named Agricultural Pest Control Services (AGPEST), have permits to apply Fumitoxin at numerous local schools, including campuses in the Oceanside Unified School District, the Sweetwater Union High School District, the Poway Unified School District, and the Chula Vista Elementary School District, just to name a few.

A manager with AGPEST declined to comment for this report.

A spokesperson for the Sweetwater Union district told News 8 that Fumitoxin has not been used since August 2012. A Chula Vista Elementary district spokesperson said Fumitoxin has not been used there for at least 12 months.

The City of San Diego, Parks and Recreation department stopped using Fumitoxin in 2010. Maintenance manager David Long said he used to use it for gopher control in Balboa Park. Now he uses traps.

“(Traps) are safe. They’re underground. People aren’t going to get into them. You know when you’ve killed the gopher because you have a body,” said Long.

Long said he changed to the non-toxic alternative out of concern for public safety.

“We use traps now and it’s fairly effective,” said Long. “Even when we used Fumitoxin, we still had gophers. But I don’t believe our problem without Fumitoxin is any worse than it was with Fumitoxin.”

Dan Fox, the pest company owner, told News 8 that traps are not as effective for killing gophers.

“You have to dig a hole. You have to put the traps in the ground. You get vandalism from it. You get wildlife trying to dig them up,” said Fox.

The San Diego Parks and Rec manager admitted setting traps can be a bit of a hassle.

“Using traps is not as cost effective as using Fumitoxin because with Fumitoxin; it’s one visit and you’ve killed the gophers,” said Long. “With traps you need to be there and put a few more hours into it.”

“But I mean, look at Balboa Park. You won’t see too many gophers,” added Long.

Which left Karan Zopatti with one last question. “Why are we doing this when you can use something that’s less toxic and there’s an alternative?” she asked.

If you want to find out which pesticides are being used at your neighborhood school, you can call the school district and ask to be added to the parental notification list.

News 8 questions and answers with Sandy Parks, Assistant Director of the County of San Diego Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures:

Question: Does your department consider the use of Fumitoxin safe at school sites?

Fumitoxin (aluminum phosphide) is applied below the ground in burrows to control rodents. It is a registered restricted material and must only be used by or under the supervision of a DPR-certified applicator. Users of Fumitoxin are required to obtain a permit from the CAC. The permit is time- and site-specific, and includes use practices to mitigate adverse effects. DPR’s licensing, registration, permitting and enforcement programs work in conjunction with the local CACs to minimize risks from pesticides when used according to applicable pesticide safety laws, label restrictions, and permit requirements.

Question: Is Fumitoxin the least toxic alternative for use at school sites (as opposed to traps) for gopher control?

Fumitoxin is not the least toxic alternative for gopher control. It is one of many tools available for the control of gophers. The selection of which method is best suited to an individual situation is determined on a case by case basis. When determining if a pesticide is the appropriate tool to use, many factors unique to the situation and the pest to be controlled must be considered before a decision can be made. Examples of the factors that may be considered are the severity of infestation, site to be treated, and timing of the treatment. There are several other non-pesticide options to manage gophers such as habitat modification to reduce gopher food sources; traps, exclusion using fencing or gravel; use of owls, snakes, coyotes and other predators that eat pocket gophers (not all appropriate for school sites);; and flooding to force gophers from their burrows. (See: www.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/health_issues/main.cfm?#usehelper ).

Question: Do the local school districts where Fumitoxin is being used have Integrated Pest Management plans that require the least toxic material be used?

This question is best answered by each individual school district. If the school district is doing integrated pest management (IPM), their pest management decisions will be broad-based, considering alternatives to pesticides, location and extent of the infestation, potential for harming people or non-target animals, effectiveness, economics and the consequences of doing nothing. For example, allowing gopher holes on athletic fields can cause serious injury to children, including broken bones and muscle strains. In some cases, schools do trap or use other non-pesticide methods, but find they can’t keep up with a growing gopher population. IPM does not eliminate the use of pesticides. When pesticides are used in IPM, least toxic pesticides are used first, and more toxic options may be used only after other pest management alternatives have been evaluated.The Healthy Schools Act (HSA) has no provision requiring use of IPM at schools nor does it require schools to have an IPM plan or IPM training. The law requires DPR to provide IPM training to school districts, but attendance by districts is voluntary, as is their use of IPM methods. The Healthy Schools Act put into place “right-to-know” requirements, such as notification, posting and record keeping for pesticides used in California schools. However, the law has no provisions for direct enforcement. Since the requirements for schools are under the Education Code, the school district is ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with the HSA. DPR provides outreach, resources and training to school districts in IPM. DPR also encourages school districts to adopt an IPM program and use other methods of pest control (including prevention and exclusion of pests) before using pesticides.