Shocking new research indicates that not only do pesticides and flame retardants cause unprecedented levels of irreversible childhood brain damage, but the knock-on effects have cost the US economy trillions of dollars.
The latest research from New York University indicates that polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were the greatest contributor to IQ loss and intellectual disability among American children, resulting in a total of 162 million IQ points lost and over 738,000 cases of intellectual disability.
Many children were likely exposed in utero – though many household objects are known to contain at least trace amounts of these harmful toxins – and this exposure is proven to be harmful to the developing nervous system.
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The study examined the effects of exposure to lead, mercury, pesticides, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (otherwise known as flame retardants) among children in the US between 2001 and 2016.
“Kids’ brain development is exquisitely vulnerable,” said Leo Trasande, a paediatrician and public health researcher at NYU. “If you disrupt, even with subtle effects, the way a child’s brain is wired, [it] can have permanent and lifelong consequences.”
According to the research, lead exposure cost American children 78 million IQ points, with pesticides taking 27 million and mercury losing them 2.5 million.
Flame retardants can be found in household furniture and electronics, while pesticides can linger on unwashed produce. And according to Trasande, there is “no safe level of lead exposure” to what he dubs “hit and run chemicals.”
The researchers estimated that each IQ point is worth two percent of a child’s lifetime economic productivity. For example, assuming a modest economic productivity of $1 million over a lifetime, each IQ point lost would equal $20,000.
“If a child comes back from school with one less IQ point, maybe mum or the parent might not notice. But if 100,000 children come back with one less IQ point, the entire economy notices.”
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In a rather stunning claim, Trasande estimates that the combined cost of these lost IQ points to America is around US$6 trillion, and that’s just between 2001 and 2016.
Lead was phased out as far back as the 1970s. Mercury emissions restrictions were imposed on coal-fired power plants by the EPA in 2011, though adherence and enforcement are both lacking.
The EPA also banned 37 pesticides, with an additional 97 voluntarily withdrawn by manufacturers.
In addition, over a dozen states have restricted the use of retardants in domestic products like furniture, upholstery, carpeting and toys. None have been banned at the federal level, however, so it is likely the problem will persist for some time to come.
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