It has long been known that toxic chemicals affect the human brain, but more recent discoveries suggest that the lion’s share of the damage occurs in the brains of children.
Typically, the discovery of this damage begins with the brains of adults. That is, researchers notice a significant “bump” in the numbers of grownups in a geographic area or working in a specific industry who are exposed to lead and experiencing odd inabilities to learn, remember or perform a task repeatedly. Lead is the first chemical of its kind to be directly linked to these sorts of cognitive decline.
But adults are only the tip of the iceberg. Children, from the fetal stage through adolescence, are more vulnerable than adolescents and adults primarily because their developing brains undergo a number of intricate – and even today not well understood – series of changes or evolutions.
These changes can be disrupted or thrown off track by the ingestion or absorption of dangerous chemicals, even at subclinical levels. For example, while massive exposure to lead in the form of paint can result in readily identifiable deficits – a loss of function in the hippocampus, the brain’s geocentric location that supports learning and memory – lesser exposures can still have long-term effects in both levels of intelligence and forms of normal behavior. The child’s failure to learn how to tie a shoe, even after repeated lessons, is a prime example of the brain’s failure to use BNDF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) signaling as a result of lead exposure, which slows or even reverses vesicle transport.
According to cognitive scientists, one out of every six children born in industrialized nations between 1960 and 1980 – a period when gasoline was leaded – may have lost half or more of their IQ scores if they were above the rank of 130. This ratio typically represents those with greater intelligence, and their “dumbing down” increased the ranks of the average, or those whose IQs are measured at less than 70.
But the deficit isn’t merely in the form of lowered IQs. Lead exposure can result in shortened attention spans (ADD and ADHD), slow motor coordination and an inability to play team sports, and heightened aggression. In later life, these deficits may in turn provoke Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Huntington’s disease, and spinal muscular atropy, among others.
One of the most enlightening and surprising theories to emerge from the study of lead’s effect on the human brain was the fact that the high levels of lead in gasoline from the 1960s to the 1980s were also the impetus behind rising levels of violent crime. These levels almost exactly mirror one another according to a chart from the online news site Mother Jones, which apparently collaborated with the U. S. Geological Survey and the Department of Justice to arrive at the figures.
Exposure to toxic chemicals not only reduces cognitive power but leads to neurodevelopmental disorders, or NDDs, like autism and mental retardation. Nor is the pathway of exposure confined to a few really dangerous chemicals. In fact, researchers have identified more than 200 industrial chemicals which are capable of doing the same amount of damage as lead, or more. And that 200 is just the beginning. In laboratories, using animal test subjects, researchers have isolated more than 1,000 chemicals that can affect the brain.
With the exception of arsenic, lead, methylmercury, PCBs and toluene – which are duly recorded on the Hazardous Substances Data Bank of the National Library of Medicine – none of the 200 chemicals known to have adverse effects on the human brain have been thoroughly analyzed for their levels and forms of neurotoxicity. Nor are most of these toxic chemicals regulated to reflect their toxicity.
Even worse, more than 50 percent of the 200 chemicals mentioned above form the backbone of industry and manufacturing, and their broad field of exposure touches almost every human being in the developed world at least peripherally.
Testing these chemicals is a very effective public health measure, but even when tested most companies are reluctant to reveal the results, which may contain proprietary information. As a result, most cases end up in court being tried by law firms whose focus is on brain injury. One of these is the Belt Law Firm, a Birmingham personal injury attorney with a reputation as being the best mobile brain injury lawyer in the entire region, and not without cause.
Until public safety aligns itself with the definition of “proprietary”, such lawsuits are likely to continue, because most firms would rather risk losing a toxic tort than reveal how their products are made. That alone should be a warning to the American public.
About the Author:
SimplyLili is a PhD student in Social Psychology, and an avid blogger on a plethora of topics that warrant social responsibility. She is a self-proclaimed nerd, and her 3 fave things are cheesecake, rainy days, and pugs.