Top 10 Chemicals Causing Autism and Neurotoxicity

autism_lost-1One thing is certain…autism is partially caused by toxicity. We don’t know the exact mechanism that takes place, neither the physical environment nor precise genetic and environmental triggers that create autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but we can correctly and directly identify chemicals as a causative factor leading to neurotoxicity which precedes ASD. Ten specific chemicals found in consumer products are suspected to contribute to autism and learning disabilities. Among other triggers, mercury has always being suspected as a cause of autism or at least a correlation. A Swinburne University survey of 522 Australian survivors of pink disease – a form of mercury poisoning common in the early 20th century – found that one in 25 of their 398 grandchildren aged six to 12 had an autism spectrum disorder. The prevalence is six times higher than the one in 160 diagnosed in the general population.

”Since autism was first recognised as a disorder, scientists have been trying to identify its cause. There have been two warring camps: one that attributes autism to genetics and the other which claims it is caused by an environmental trigger,” said Associate Professor David Austin, one of the authors of the paper. ”This study suggests that it may actually be a combination of the two. That is, genetic susceptibility to a trigger [mercury] and then exposure to that trigger. In this sense, it is like a peanut allergy. For most of us, peanuts are completely harmless but, for those who are allergic, there can be serious consequences if there is exposure.”

An editorial published today in the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives calls for increased research to identify possible environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in America’s children and presents a list of ten target chemicals including which are considered highly likely to contribute to these conditions.

Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, a world-renowned leader in children’s environmental health and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, co-authored the editorial, entitled “A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities,” along with Luca Lambertini, PhD, MPH, MSc, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai and Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute OF Environmental Health Sciences.

The editorial was published alongside four other papers — each suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and autism. Both the editorial and the papers originated at a conference hosted by CEHC in December 2010.

The National Academy of Sciences reports that 3 percent of all neurobehavioral disorders in children, such as ASD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are caused by toxic exposures in the environment and that another 25 percent are caused by interactions between environmental factors and genetics. But the precise environmental causes are not yet known. While genetic research has demonstrated that ASD and certain other neurodevelopmental disorders have a strong hereditary component, many believe that environmental causes may also play a role — and Mount Sinai is leading an effort to understand the role of these toxins in a condition that now affects between 400,000 and 600,000 of the 4 million children born in the United States each year.

“A large number of the chemicals in widest use have not undergone even minimal assessment of potential toxicity and this is of great concern,” says Dr. Landrigan. “Knowledge of environmental causes of neurodevelopmental disorders is critically important because they are potentially preventable.”

CEHC developed the list of ten chemicals found in consumer products that are suspected to contribute to autism and learning disabilities to guide a research strategy to discover potentially preventable environmental causes. The top ten chemicals are:

1. Lead 2. Methylmercury 3. PCBs 4. Organophosphate pesticides 5. Organochlorine pesticides 6. Endocrine disruptors 7. Automotive exhaust 8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons 9. Brominated flame retardants 10. Perfluorinated compounds

In addition to the editorial, the other four papers also call for increased research to identify the possible environmental causes of autism in America’s children. The first paper, written by a team at the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee, found preliminary evidence linking smoking during pregnancy to Asperger’s disorder and other forms of high-functioning autism. Two papers, written by researchers at the University of California — Davis, show that PCBs disrupt early brain development. The final paper, also by a team at UC — Davis, suggests further exploring the link between pesticide exposure and autism.


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