By Rachel Sarnoff
What does autism have to do with the environment? Everything.
Autism is America’s fastest growing developmental disability. Autism rates have risen nearly 600% in 20 years, to the point that now one out of every 88 children—or one out of every 70 boys—is statistically destined for diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Why the dramatic increase? Increased identification of the condition comes into play when looking at a data spike. But six hundred percent? More and more, doctors and scientists are pointing the finger at chemicals in the environment.
Last year, a study published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics looked a at how substances such as high fructose corn syrup can lead to mineral deficiencies, how deficiencies in minerals such as zinc can reduce the body’s ability to eliminate toxic substances such as mercury and pesticides, which have been linked to autism.
A group of autism experts published a list of chemicals and heavy metals believed to be behind the surge in autism and other neurological problems, Rodale reported. The list includes lead, mercury, PCBs, organochlorine and organophosphate pesticides, vehicular air pollution, flame retardants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), BPA and the chemicals in nonstick cookware.
“We have very powerful, very sophisticated tools we can use to measure chemicals at very low levels,”said Phil Landrigan, Chair of Preventative Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York and co-author of the list. “It’s now possible to connect early exposure to problems in childhood.”
“We live, breathe and start our families in the presence of toxic chemical mixtures and constant low-level toxic exposures, in stark contrast to the way chemicals are tested for safety,” said Donna Ferullo, Director of Program Research at The Autism Society said at a conference call organized by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families in 2011. “Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe.”
Just to be clear: There is no clear data on why autism occurs. Most scientists agree that there are many factors—from genetic to environmental—which may increase risk for ASD. Environmental factors include chemicals, infectious agents, and various health problems in the parents.
Hundreds of genes have been associated with autism, some of which are inherited and some of which are found in people with autism but not in their parents. Through the study of epigenetics, many scientists are focusing on the non-genetic—i.e. environmental and developmental—factors that cause the genes to behave differently; changes that may be passed on through multiple generations.
As Dick Jackson, Chair of UCLA’s Environmental Health Sciences Department once told me, “The genes load the gun. The environment pulls the trigger.” Unfortunately, we don’t yet know what that trigger is. But I’m guessing it’s man made.
Originally posted on MommyGreenest.com
By Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff
You’re making your list and checking it twice, but do you know what’s in the toys you’re stuffing in those stockings? Here are some quick tips to follow:
1. Avoid plastics made from or including BPA, PET, PVC and Styrofoam. 2. Look for toys made from natural materials like wood and cloth. 3. Choose gifts that are made locally.
That last tip is a quick and easy way to limit the levels of cadmium, lead and other toxic chemicals to which children are exposed.
In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed to regulate lead and phthalates in toys and infant products after a public scare related to the problem of tainted toys, imported mainly from China.
Some states are looking even closer at products marketed to kids, such as Washington’s Children’s Safe Products Act, Maine’s Kid’s Safe Products Act and California’s Green Chemistry Initiative.
How to tell which toys are naughty and which are nice? Before you shop, take a minute to check Parents magazine’s list of this year’s toy recalls.
And if you’re still set on plastic, try to assess what type you’re buying by looking for a “chasing arrow” symbol on the bottom of the toy. As with all plastic products, avoid the numbers 1 (PET), 3 (PVC) and 6 (Styrofoam), and seek out those marked “BPA-free.”
PET and PVC (also known as vinyl) are softened with phthalates. Even low levels of phthalates have been linked to birth defects, obesity and asthma.
Styrofoam takes 500 years to degrade, dissolves into tiny bits that end up in the ocean, is rarely recyclable, and last year it was assessed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the government.
And BPA, used to harden plastics, is a hormone disruptor; it mimics estrogen in the body and has been linked to obesity, anxiety and a brain tumor called meningloma, among other problems.
That’s a list worth checking twice.
Update 12.10.12: Hasbro commits to eliminating PVC from toy and game packaging beginning in 2013, and has already started phasing out PVC from packaging; BPA was voluntarily eliminated from their products in 2011. I’d like to see PVC out of product, too, but looks like this company is on the right track! Read more in Hasbro’s corporate report, which I learned about from blogger Richard Liroff.
This post originally appeared on MommyGreenest.com
By: Rachel Sarnoff
Senator Lautenberg celebrates on Capitol Hill. Photo: Chicago Tribune
Ready for some big news? The Senate voted to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This may sound like just more political posturing to some, but for those of us involved in children’s environmental health, it’s a ridiculously big deal.
Senator Frank Lautenberg has sponsored the Safe Chemicals Act each year since 2005. If the bill becomes law, it will be the first time that manufacturers would have to submit health and safety data for the chemicals that they produce.
And the EPA would have the power to restrict chemicals that cannot be proven safe — under TSCA, the EPA can only require safety testing after a chemical has demonstrated hazardous toxicity. According to the Chicago Tribune, “the EPA acknowledges that it knows little, if anything, about the safety of most of the 84,000 industrial compounds in commercial use in the U.S.”
The Senate, which voted on party lines — all Democrats in favor of reform; all Republicans opposed — is still under pressure from lobbying groups like the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates and will need bipartisan support to proceed.
I think those that voted for reform should be supported and those who are against it should know better, don’t you? That’s why I spent yesterday tweeting their names. Care to join me?
Senator Lautenberg celebrates on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Chicago Tribune)
@FrankLautenberg, @EPWChairBoxer, @MaxBaucus, @SenatorCarper, @SenatorCardin, @SenSanders, @SenJeffMerkley, @SenGilligrand, @SenWhitehouse & @SenatorTomUdall all voted 4 the #SafeChemicalsAct.
Shame on @jiminhofe, @DavidVitter, @SenJohnBarrasso, @SenatorSessions, @MikeCrapo, @SenAlexander, @Mike_Johanns & @JohnBoozman, who all voted against. (Twitter handles courtesy of @SaferChemicals.)
Feel like getting involved? Tweet this!
You can find more on Rachel at Mommygreenest. She also founded EcoStiletto.com, and appeared on Today and CNN to talk about a judgment-free, eco-conscious lifestyle. She is the former Executive Director of Healthy Child Healthy World and was editor-in-chief of Children magazine before she had kids. Rachel lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children, who range in age from preschooler to teen. You can follow her on twitter @rachellsarnoff