Toxic Chemicals in Household Cleaners Linked to Delayed Cognitive, Language Development

The results of a new study suggest that children in households with frequent use of toxic chemicals in household cleaners were more likely to show delays in cognitive and language development by age two.

Study overview

Research subjects included 190 families from the Kids in Columbus Study, a Crane Center research project that followed children born into low-income families for five years after birth.

Mothers were asked about their use of household chemicals such as floor and toilet cleaners and solvents during pregnancy.  Mothers were surveyed again about their use of toxic household cleaners when their child was 14 to 23 months old. Subjects were also asked to report whether they had mold in the home, their use of pesticides, and neighborhood pollution sources.

Children’s language development was measured when they were between 14 and 23 months old and again when they were 20 to 25 months old.  Researchers used a standardized test that examines children’s understanding and expression of language – for example, recognition of objects and people, following directions, and naming objects and pictures.

Results overview

Toxicant exposure was significantly associated with lags in language and cognition even when controlling for socioeconomic factors. Specifically, the more household chemicals mothers reported using regularly after childbirth, the lower the child’s language and cognitive development were at 2 years of age.  Exposure to toxic chemicals was reported by about 20 percent of mothers during pregnancy, but that increased to 30 percent when their children were between 1 and 2 years old.

There was no link between chemical use during pregnancy and child outcomes, possibly because mothers reported using significantly fewer chemicals during pregnancy. Likewise, factors such as neighborhood pollution, mold in the house and pesticide use were not significantly linked to cognitive and language delays in children.

Why avoiding toxic chemicals in household cleaning products is key during a toddler’s life:

“When kids reach about 2 years old, that is a peak time for brain development. If the use of toxic chemicals is interfering with that development, that could lead to problems with language and cognitive growth.”

-Dr.  Laura Justice, study co-author, professor of educational psychology, Ohio State University and executive director of The Crane Center

The Takeaway:

“Parents need to understand the delicacy of brain development in the first several years of life and their children’s susceptibility to chemical exposure.”

-Dr. Hui Jiang, lead author of the study and senior research associate at Ohio State University

 


 

Journal Reference:  Jian, H., et al. Exposure to Environmental Toxicants and Early Language Development for Children Reared in Low-Income Households, Clinical Pediatrics Journal, February 28, 2020.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0009922820908591  Overview