by Danielle Knight
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
chemicals commonly released by industry into the environment in large quantities across the United States may be adding to the mysterious surge in child development and learning disabilities, warns a new report.
More than one in every 200 children who suffer from developmental or neurological disabilities could have acquired the impairment by exposure to these toxic chemicals, according to the report by three national environmental and health advocacy organizations.
The most recent data available say U.S. companies reported to the federal government that they had released in 1998 more than one billion pounds of developmental and neurological toxins in the nation's air and water.
These chemicals have the potential to affect the way a child's body and brain develops, says the report. Many defects could have been caused by exposure to the developing fetus, it says.
"While it's usually impossible to say that a particular child's disability is caused by a toxic chemical, it is clear that toxic chemicals are taking a tragic toll across the population," says Ted Schettler, a practicing physician in Boston, speaking on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility, which co-authored the report.
About 12 million children in this country -- under the age of 18 -- suffer from one or more developmental, learning or behavioral disabilities. These include disabilities like mental retardation, birth defects, autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The report builds on recent findings by a scientific panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences that found as many as 3 percent of known developmental and neurological defects in children were caused by exposure to known toxic substances.
The panel also concluded that 25 percent of these problems may be the result of environmental and genetic factors working in combination, and that toxic substances may play a significant, but undetermined role.
Based on these estimates, Polluting Our Future concludes that more than 360,000 children in the United States suffer from developmental or neurological disabilities caused by a range of toxic exposures including developmental and neurological toxins released in the environment by industry.
"Now we know what we have suspected for years, that toxic chemicals are bringing anguish to thousands of families in this country," says Larry Silver, a doctor and president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, which also co-authored the report.
According to Silver, the number of developmental impairments like autism and low birth weight are increasing in the United States.
"In 50 percent of the cases, there are family histories of these types of problems, but in the other 50 percent we don't know what it is and suspect that it could be related to chemical releases," says Silver, who is also a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University.
report uses the toxic chemical release data available through the Environmental Protection Agency. By law, U.S. companies must report certain toxic chemical releases to this regulatory body.
But "emissions reported to the federal government account for only an estimated 5 percent of all chemical releases in the country." Therefore, the amount of chemicals in the environment that could impact child development could be as much as 24 billion pounds, says the report.
The chemical manufacturing industry is the single largest industrial source of developmental and neurological toxin emissions to air and water in the United States, it says. Paper, metal and plastics manufacturers as well as electric power companies are also major emitters of these substances, according to the report.
Solvents are among the leading developmental and neurological toxins released by industrial facilities in the United States, says Schettler.
Toluene -- a solvent used commonly in printing facilities -- is of particular concern, says Schettler, because it is released in large quantities. More than 98 million pounds of the substance were released into the air and water in 1998, according to the report.
Toluene can cause abnormalities of the face and head resembling those of fetal alcohol syndrome. It can also cause growth retardation and persistent deficits in cognitive, speech, and motor skills, he says.
"Because many printing facilities are often closer to residential areas than other industries, this industry and the government should make greater efforts to switch to safer technologies that present less of a potential health risk to children nearby" says Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.
Other developmental and neurologically toxic pollutants like lead, cadmium and manganese are also on the list.
"Conspicuously absent, however, are data on neurologically toxic pesticides," adds Schettler. This is because there are no legal requirements for reporting their release into the environment.
Even for the reported substances, there are no national, state, or local policies that effectively encourage producers or users to test their chemicals for the potential to harm the brain or the development of children before putting these substances into products or emitting them into the environment, he says.
To the alarm of environmentalists, lawmakers -- under heavy pressure from chemical and other industries -- have not mandated that all chemicals be tested for these impacts.
"Potential developmental and neurological toxins should be tested in the laboratory -- not on our children," says Schettler.
The lack of testing is due in part to laws that require further testing only if some minimal negative health effect has been proven.
"The Environmental Protection Agency needs to have some information in order to begin tests," explains Goldman, who used to work for the regulatory agency. "If there is no information it is very difficult to more forward," she says.
The report ranks the nation's states in terms of amounts of toxic releases. Louisiana and Texas -- two large chemical and petroleum refining states with lax regulatory controls -- are the two states that emit the most developmental and neurological toxins.
Jeff Wise, policy director of the National Environmental Trust, a group that co-authored the report, says the study finds that minority populations, especially African American communities, are exposed to more pollution than the rest of the population as a whole.
Looking at the top 25 counties in the United States for releases of developmental toxins -- where more than 46 percent of all reported developmental toxins were released -- African American populations in 14 of these 25 counties exceed the U.S. average.
"In other words, African Americans are over-represented in many of the counties most polluted by developmental toxins," says Wise.
October 30, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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