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Scientists and environmental health experts warn that the rapid increase in autism rates is due in part to exposure to toxic chemicals. Pregnant women, fetuses, babies and young children are especially vulnerable to these toxic exposures. “Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe. With some complex combination of insults, little brains reach a tipping point,” warned Donna Ferullo, director of program research at The Autism Society.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States and genetics alone can not explain the trend. Interactions between susceptibility genes and environmental chemicals are implicated as a possible cause. “Today, to a mother carrying BPA, mercury, phthalates, and brominated flame retardants, is born a baby with 200 contaminants already in its cord blood,” said Ferullo. “The developing brain is exquisitely sensitive to environmental exposures from conception through childhood.”
Experts called for reform of the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary law regulating chemicals, as a way to alleviate autism and other serious health problems. Senator Frank Lautenberg has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to replace TSCA and put commonsense limits on toxic chemicals. The new law would require chemicals to be proven safe before they enter the marketplace.
Lead image Nezemnaya via Flickr