One in six American children suffers from a neurodevelopmental disorder, including but not limited to, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders ASD), or delays in speech and language. Fourteen percent of all American kids are diagnosed with ADHD. The need for special education in the public school system has increased a staggering 200 percent since the 1980s.

In 2000, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences estimated 3 percent of these neurodevelopmental disorders are caused by toxins in the environment and an additional 25 percent are caused by environmental factors that trigger innate genetic susceptibility. Environmental pollutants were once thought to harm the respiratory system but it’s becoming more evident that the brain, including the developing fetal brain, suffers more from toxic pollutants than any other organ of the body.

In the 1980s, Frederica Perera, a cancer researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, tested tissue from human placentas, expecting to find a “pristine” environment free of pollutants, but instead found that every tissue sample revealed pollution-related DNA damage.

In 2013, a joint statement issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says, “The scientific evidence over the last 15 years shows that exposure to toxic environmental agents before conception and during pregnancy can have significant and long-lasting effects on reproductive health.” The American Chemistry Council disputes this finding, claiming it is bad science based on flawed research.

The Clean Air Act worked, cleaning the air of smog by dramatically reducing the emission of carbon monoxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide. Black carbon emissions, however, aren’t being regulated. On a global scale, black carbon exposure is responsible for 2 million premature deaths each year.

Black carbon is fine particulate matter created as fuels burn. It’s emitted by automobiles, including most public transportation vehicles and school buses, boilers in apartment buildings, cook stoves, and ships. It settles deep in the lungs but travels to the brain, too, where it alters DNA and, probably, neural circuitry.

Three additional pollutants suspected of being neurotoxicants are everywhere, found in almost every home in the nation:


  • Pesticides - in the food and water supply, in most homes, most lawns, and on farms
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) - flame retardants built into most upholstered furniture, carpets, draperies and curtains, children’s clothing, and bedding
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) - vehicle exhaust

Many common pesticides once widely used have been phased out of the market although some professional extermination companies still use them. In many cases, the chemicals are known to cause birth defects and other disabilities of childhood have been replaced with pyrethroids although there has been a very little study on the effects of long-term exposure to them.

Source: Williams, Florence. “Generation Toxic.” On Earth. Natural Resources Defense Council. Nov 25, 2013. Web. Dec 17, 2013.