It took a few thousand years for us to realize the severity of lead poisoning, although the signs were certainly there: “crazy as a painter” was a catch phrase rooted in the demented behavior of lead-poisoned painters in antiquity. Mad as a hatter? Before the use of mercury was banned in the 1940s, hat makers used it in their craft–which left many of them drooling, twitching, lurching, befuddled and mumbling. Seems to me that when a segment of the population is suffering from a mysterious condition, it would be prudent to examine the possibility of environmental toxins as the culprit.
Lead, mercury, asbestos–can phthalates be next? Phthalates, called “plasticizers,” are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient and also as solvents. Phthalates, as described by the EWG are nearly ubiquitous in modern society, found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo.
According to a recent story in The New York Times, concern about toxins in our products and the environment used to be a fringe view, but now concern has moved into the medical mainstream. Toxicologists, endocrinologists and oncologists seem to be the most alarmed. One area of particular concern? The relationship between toxins and autism.
Autism was first identified in 1943–recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control now claim that autism disorders affect almost 1 percent of children, and suspicions are increasing that the cause may be environmental toxins. An article in a forthcoming issue of a peer-reviewed medical journal, Current Opinion in Pediatrics says that “historically important, proof-of-concept studies that specifically link autism to environmental exposures experienced prenatally.” It adds that the probability of many chemicals “have potential to cause injury to the developing brain and to produce neurodevelopmental disorders.”
The author of the study, Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and chairman of the school’s department of preventive medicine, told the Times reporter that he is increasingly confident that autism and other ailments are, in part, the result of the impact of environmental chemicals on the brain as it is being formed.
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