Toxic Chemicals Affecting Brain Development in Children

Did you know that products that we use daily contain toxic chemicals? We didn’t either. Almost all household items, from cosmetics to household cleaners, are chock-full of substances that are damaging to our health. 

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Dozens of studies reveal that exposure to environmental toxins increases a person’s risk of developing long-term health issues, including respiratory problems and cancers. 

If toxic chemicals lead to chronic disease in full-grown individuals, have you ever wondered what its effects are on children? Exposure to toxic chemicals in the prenatal period or early in life can have a detrimental and lifelong effect on the developing brain, even in low concentrations. Furthermore, the availability of blood tests in London offers a crucial tool for identifying and monitoring the presence of harmful substances in children’s bodies.

While there are more than 160 million chemicals, we’ll discuss the three toxic chemicals found in an array of household products that are affecting the brain development of children.

#1 Lead

Exposure to lead is a growing concern, especially in the Third World nations and urban centers in the USA, because it has serious consequences on children’s health. Common sources of lead exposure include paint, ceramic glazes, stained glass, and toys. 

Herbert Needleman’s 1976 study revealed that lead, even in trace amounts, severely damaged children’s brains. Back then, his opinion wasn’t popular. Instead, the prevailing wisdom was that only high amounts of lead could inflict such damage. 

However, over the next five decades, thousands of studies conducted echoed the findings of Needleman’s study. They agreed that early life exposure to low lead levels affects memory, behavior, learning, and IQ. 

At high levels, lead exposure can damage the brain and central nervous system, causing convulsions, coma, and even death. Those who survive lead poisoning suffer from behavioral disorders or permanent intellectual disability. 

While no safe blood lead level has been identified, the CDC states that lead levels of 10 micrograms or more per deciliter in young children and infants are a matter of concern. That’s because it can damage children’s ability to learn. Quite shockingly, the behavioral and neurological effects of lead poisoning are untreatable because of the brain’s limited ability to repair itself. 

#2 Tetrachloroethylene

Not many know that early life exposure to tetrachloroethylene alters brain function through demyelination, changes in the brain’s fatty acids, and peroxidation of cell membrane lipids. 

Due to its fat solubility and small size, PCE, also known as perchloroethylene, crosses the blood-brain barrier easily, selectively concentrating in the brain and other lipophilic tissue. As such, tetrachloroethylene or PCE exposure early in life could also impact the brain receptors in a negative way. 

A handful of studies have found that children of women who were exposed to organic solvents during pregnancy had reduced graphomotor skills and scored low on language tests. The studies also discovered that children whose mothers were exposed to PCE had more behavioral problems than those who weren’t. 

From the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, Cape Cod, Massachusetts’ public drinking water supplies were contaminated with PCE. Prenatal and early childhood exposure to this chlorinated solvent linked PCE with neurotoxic outcomes, such as impairment of neurophysiological function, ocular effects, and decreased cognition. 

Something similar happened at the Marine Corps base in Camp Lejeune. Between 1953 and 1987, over one million people were exposed to PCE and other toxic substances in the water, which resulted in a host of health issues. VOCs like PCE were found in the Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace treatment plants, notes TorHoerman Law. 

Birth Injury Help Center reveals that prenatal exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune increased a child’s risk of being born with NTD, i.e., neural tube defects. Babies with in-utero exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water were four times more likely to be born with NTDs than controlled groups. Anencephaly, a brain defect, is among the most common NTDs. 

A 2023 NBC News article disclosed that a woman named Ann Johnson gave birth to a baby girl with brain stem issues. 

In 2022, when President Joe Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, a surge of victims filed lawsuits against the federal government in the hope of getting the justice they deserve. As per the lawyers, the Camp Lejeune lawsuit payout could be between $10,000 and $500,000 per claim. 

#3 Arsenic

Arsenic, a well-documented carcinogen and toxicant, is present naturally at high levels in the drinking water of several countries. 

Recent studies have documented that arsenic impairs neurological function in children, even in low concentrations. A 2023 Jama Network report reveals that children with low body mass index and lower standards of living might be more susceptible to environmental insults linked with arsenic. 

Exposure to this naturally occurring metalloid is linked with impaired attention, reasoning, verbal comprehension, and working memory. These impairments are likely to cause a decrease in IQ. 

Arsenic exposure in children is especially concerning because it occurs during critical periods of neurodevelopment. Moreover, the damage caused by this neurotoxicant is permanent. 

What’s Next?

Be it toys, drinking water, or air, toxic chemicals that harm children’s cognitive and behavioral development are ubiquitous. However, the good news is that there are a number of ways you can reduce your child’s exposure to these chemicals. 

Buying organic fruits and vegetables, opting for sustainable furniture, installing water filters, and avoiding paints containing lead and VOCs are some ways to limit your child’s exposure to neurotoxicants. While living healthily in a chemical world is impossible, making these small changes will help you provide your child with a safe environment for growth. 


I am Finance Content Writer . I write Personal Finance, banking, investment, and insurance related content for top clients including Kotak Mahindra Bank, Edelweiss, ICICI BANK and IDFC FIRST Bank. Linkedin

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