TIP's Lighthouse
P.O. Box 40441, Providence, RI 02906
Tel. 401-351-9193,  E-Mail:  TIP@toxicsinfo.org
Website:  www.toxicsinfo.org

Is Pollution Making Our Minds Melt?
There's no shortage of seriously bad press when it comes to chemicals loose in the environment. They cause cancer. They create disease. They mess with our hormones. They harm our babies. It's all in a hard days work for your typical malevolent molecule. But that's not all they may be up to. According to emerging reports, toxic chemicals may soon be adding something else to their resume, an unsettling ability to mess with our heads and literally make us less intelligent.  As research into the ways chemical contaminants affect the body grows more sophisticated, scientists have begun to find out that environmental toxins can affect us mentally as well as physically. According to a number of recent studies, certain pollutants are affecting human intelligence and behavior on a global scale.

A 5-year study at the University of Wisconsin in Madison found that water contaminated with low levels of the common agricultural pesticides atrazine and aldicarb altered thyroid hormone levels in the bloodstreams of mice. Researchers found that ingesting various combinations of these chemicals (which are often found in water supplies in farming regions) caused increased aggression as a result. Researchers noted that PCBs and dioxins are known to cause similar thyroid changes and that attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorders in children, multiple chemical sensitivity, irritability and aggressive behavior are all linked to thyroid hormone levels.

A study of 4 and 5 year-old children in Mexico noted decreased cognitive abilities and increased aggressiveness in children exposed to pesticides. Researchers studied two similar groups of Yaqui Indian children in Sonora, Mexico. One group lived in an farming area receiving 45 or more pesticide sprayings a year. The second group lived in nearby hills where residents farm without pesticides. The study found that the pesticide-exposed children displayed much less physical endurance in a test to see how long they could jump up and down. They also had poorer hand-eye coordination and could not draw a simple human stick figure, something the hill children easily did. The study also noted that "... valley children were observed hitting their siblings when they passed by, and they became easily upset or angry with a minor corrective comment by a parent. These aggressive behaviors were not noted in the foothills."

In a review of the evidence, Britain's Global Environmental Change Programme found that lead, PCBs, biphenyls and radiation are harming the intelligence of people around the world. This problem is compounded by food supplies that are suffering a loss of micronutrients like iron and iodine. The report noted increases in Downs Syndrome in areas affected by the Chernobyl explosion; decreases in intelligence among 95% of children in uranium mining towns; decreases in intelligence of Inuit children exposed to airborne PCBs; decreases in intelligence in Indian villages poisoned by fluoride-tainted water; and the fact that 10% of English children and up to 90% of African children in certain regions have high enough blood lead levels to affect intelligence.

The Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility recently called for tests to assure that chemicals do not affect brain functioning. The group says that preliminary data shows that common household chemicals like glues, solvents, pesticides, and others have the potential to harm the brain. According to the group, chemicals currently must be tested to see if they alter the physical structure of the brain, but no tests are required to see how brain functioning is affected. Their report notes that of the approximately 15,000 common household chemicals on the market, only 12 have been tested for their effects on brain development.

While more research needs to be done, we're smart enough to believe that something's going on. Before we all get a bit too addled in the head to know any better, we suggest we all rethink our chemically-dependent ways and come up with some brighter ideas. Here again, the Precautionary Principle must prevail and synthetic chemicals assumed guilty until they can be proven innocent. It's the only intelligent thing to do. For more information visit:
 http://www.preventingharm.org/ and http://www.rachel.org.

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