A number of recent studies point to the increased incidence of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, in the United States. And the October issue of the journal Pediatrics publishes a new government study suggesting that autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder, is more prevalent than previously thought, affecting 1 in every 91 U.S. children.
A search of the literature points to exposure to manganese while self-pumping gasoline, to chronic mercury exposure, to pesticide exposure and to a myriad of unknown factors that may affect genetic expression. A research team from the California-based Parkinson’s Institute recently found that the most common pesticides used in gardening tripled the incidence of Parkinson’s disease. The NIH Website www.medlineplus.gov lists 29 published studies linking Parkinson’s disease with pesticide exposure.
The causes of neurodevelopmental disorders — including autism, ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome — remain elusive. But clearly, to quote Walter Willett, M.D, M.P.H., of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, the fact that we’ve changed the fat in our diet has a role to play. Changes in diet and activity, the increased use of vaccines, toxins in the environment (including mercury, lead and phthalates) and genetic susceptibility to the multitude of environmental changes could affect our children, whether as individuals or collectively. The combination of factors could impact each child differently.
In an announcement September 29, 2009, the EPA noted that U.S. consumers are “understandably anxious and confused” about chemicals in the environment and in their bodies. Quoted as saying the 1976 toxics law was “inordinately cumbersome and time-consuming”, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson indicated that in the coming months the Obama administration will promote a new law placing responsibility on the chemical industry to prove that its compounds are safe.
In the interim, Jackson said, the EPA would begin to analyze and regulate six chemicals that have raised high-profile health concerns. These include bisphenol/BPA, found in hard, clear polycarbonate bottles and in dentistry materials; phthalates, found in vinyl and cosmetics; brominated flame retardants; perfluorinated compounds used in nonstick coatings; paraffins found in lubricants; and benzidine dyes and pigments. It is feared that these six chemicals mimic hormones. They have already been linked to reproductive problems, the obstruction of fetal development, cancer and other health disorders.
Using its authority under existing law, EPA may restrict the use of these six chemicals or require that product labels warn consumers of the risks associated with their use.
October 13, 2009