Biggest Chemical Threat to Intellectual Disability: Flame Retardants, Pesticides

A new scientific study just released examined the extent of IQ loss linked to toxic chemicals over a 15 year period in the U.S.  Flame retardants and pesticides, and to a lesser extent, heavy metals like lead, resulted in more than a million cases of intellectual disability in the United States between 2001 and 2016. As a result of significantly fewer restrictions, flame retardants and pesticides now represent the bulk of that cognitive loss.

Study  overview

This latest study is the only long-term neurological and economic investigation of toxic chemicals and their effect on IQ and brain functioning to date.  Scientists analyzed PBDE, organophosphate pesticides, lead, and methylmercury exposures in blood samples from women of childbearing age and 5-year-olds. Data on women and children were obtained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  The researchers then used results from several previous environmental health studies to estimate the annual number of IQ points lost per unit of exposure to each of the four main chemicals in the study.

Results overview

Scientists identified a concerning shift in which chemicals represent the greatest risk. Among toxin-exposed children, the researchers found that the proportion of cognitive loss that results from exposure to chemicals used in flame retardants, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs), and organophosphate pesticides increased from 67 percent to 81 percent during the same study period.

The substances analyzed by the researchers are found in household products from furniture upholstery to tuna fish, and can build up in the body to damage organs. Heavy metals, lead and mercury in particular, are known to disrupt brain and kidney function. In addition, they, along with flame retardants and pesticides, can interfere with the thyroid, which secretes brain-developing hormones. Experts say exposure at a young age to any of these toxins can cause learning disabilities, autism, and behavioral issues.

In their investigation, the researchers found that everyday contact with these substances during the 16-year study period resulted in roughly 1,190,230 children affected with some form of intellectual disability.

Is there anything people can do to prevent IQ loss from these toxic chemicals?

Yes. Consumers can significantly reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals like PBDE by purchasing non-toxic, PBDE-Free furniture like bedding and sofas, flooring and other household products, linens, pajamas and clothing. Additionally, consumers can purchase organic fresh or frozen produce to reduce their exposure to organophosphate pesticides and when that is not possible, to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables with a low cost, DIY solution recommended by experts.



Journal Reference: Gaylord, A., et al. (2020). 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, Journal of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology,  source