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Protecting children from industrial chemicals in the environment

American children are likely to face serious health consequences from new and existing industrial chemicals in the environment, argue a group of researchers in a report in this month's premier open-access global health journal PLoS Medicine.

Women exposed to industrial chemicals in the environment pass them on to their children across the placenta or via breast milk, and children are also exposed to chemicals by direct ingestion of house dust, soil, and other dietary sources during early childhood. The vast majority of these chemicals, say the researchers, have never been tested to ensure that they are safe for the developing fetus or child.

While the exact consequences of exposing children to these chemicals are unknown, the researchers - Bruce Lanphear and Charles Vorhees at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati, and David Bellinger at Harvard Medical School - say that "exposures to environmental toxins have been linked with higher rates of mental retardation, intellectual impairment, and behavioral problems, such as conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder."

A crucial step towards protecting children would be to ensure that industrial chemicals undergo "developmental neurotoxicity testing." Such testing uses animal experiments to provide information on what happens to the fetal nervous system, and the newborn child's nervous system, when it is exposed to an industrial chemical during pregnancy or while breast feeding. Unfortunately, argue Lanphear and colleagues, the most basic toxicity tests in animals are lacking for 75% of the 3,000 highest production volume chemicals.

Under current regulations, they say, manufacturers of commercial chemicals have no legal obligation to prove that their chemicals are non-toxic before marketing them. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has entered into an agreement with the American Chemistry Council
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Contact: Paul Ocampo
pocampo@plos.org
1-415-624-1224
Public Library of Science
28-Mar-2005


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