Issues - child health - WWF Report June 2004
"We are all living in a global chemical
experiment of which we don't know the outcome."
The brain development of many children in Europe today has
been harmed by man-made chemicals. Details of studies showing
that chemicals are seriously impacting on children's intelligence
are highlighted by WWF.
The new report, Compromising our Children, brings
together the latest research on the impacts of man-made chemicals
to which we are all exposed. Disturbingly it reveals that
the chemical levels found in some members of the general public
are sufficient to harm children's brain development and coordination.
Gwynne Lyons, WWF Toxics advisor, said:
"It seems unbelievable that although science has shown
that chemicals are affecting children's mental abilities and
their ability to make sense of their world, we are still missing
vital safety data on most chemicals in use today. And even
when studies suggest some chemicals can affect brain development,
swift action is not taken. In effect we are all living in
a global chemical experiment of which we don't know the outcome.
Our children are our future - and our future is under threat."
Very little is known about the toxicity to the brain and the
nervous system of the 70,000 man-made chemicals currently
on the market. However, a panel of scientists in the USA have
estimated that 10 per cent of all neurobehavioural disorders
are caused wholly or partly by toxic exposures. Exposure to
some chemicals, could therefore account for a wide variety
of cases of behavioural and mental problems currently classified
as due to unknown causes.
The developing brain is particularly sensitive,
because in humans the brain and nervous system develop over
a long period of time, beginning in the womb and continuing
through puberty. This means children are particularly vulnerable
to the effects of chemicals that can derail normal brain development
Studies have shown that brain development in
children living in industrialised European countries has been
affected by chemicals that have accumulated in their mothers
and are passed on from the mother while the baby is in the
Studies on children in the Netherlands and Germany
have confirmed fears that in European cities widespread harm
appears to have been caused to some children simply by PCB
chemicals found at the upper range of those 'normally' found
in the general population. The levels found in mothers from
the UK have not been dissimilar to these levels that have
been shown to cause effects.
We are exposed to chemicals that are reported
to cause neurotoxic effects in our diet and in our everyday
lives. Included in the report are examples such as; brominated
flame retardant chemicals that may be found in videos, TVs,
computers, soft furnishings, car seats, and furniture; PCBs
which can arise from old industrial transformers, and some
building materials; and dioxins, emitted by power station
and some factories, and open burning of some plastic wastes.
The report shows that in the EU, the impacts of chemicals
on children's brain development include: poorer memory; reduced
visual recognition; less well developed movement skills; as
well as lower IQ scores.
It has been calculated that the loss of one
IQ point can be associated with a reduction in lifetime earnings
of 2.39 per cent, but the long term implications of the effects
seen in children are not known.
In addition, disabilities such as Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism appear to
be increasing, and concern is growing about the role chemicals
may play in these disorders. The European Commission now regards
the occurrence of developmental and learning disabilities
as a 'significant public health problem'. Yet most chemicals
on the market today lack available safety information, particularly
about their ability to cause developmental toxicity - where
toxics affect the developing offspring, but the same dose
levels would not cause effects in mothers - or birth defects.
Other impacts the report brings to light are more subtle but
equally alarming, such as altered masculine and feminine behaviour.
Researchers in Europe studying children exposed
to background levels of pollution found that the effects of
prenatal exposure to PCBs were different for boys and girls.
In boys, higher prenatal PCB levels were related to less masculinised
play, whereas in girls, higher exposure was linked with more
On the other hand, higher prenatal dioxin exposure
was associated with more feminised play in girls as well as
boys. While this work is controversial it warrants more research
to verify and understand the full implications.
"Hazardous chemicals can take a hidden toll on our quality
of life. Children and wildlife have a right not to be contaminated.
And parents have a right to expect that products that are
used in the home are as safe as possible. But even where there
are safer alternatives, legislation to phase out the worst
chemicals is lacking," said Gwynne Lyons.
"There are great emotional costs to the
families of children with impaired brain function, as well
as societal costs, in terms of schooling and healthcare provision.
But these costs are rarely factored in to decisions on chemicals
The EU is negotiating new legislation (called
REACH) to regulate industrial chemicals. This is a once in
a generation opportunity to create a safer future for our
children and wildlife.
WWF is calling for the legislation to phase
out chemicals that are persistent and bioaccumulative, or
those that can disrupt the endocrine system and allow their
continued use only where there is an overwhelming societal
need, where no safer alternatives exist, and where measures
to minimise exposure are put in place. WWF therefore consider
that the availability of a safer substitute should be grounds,
by itself, for banning such chemicals of very high concern.
for the full report 'Compromising our Children' by WWF click