The 11 everyday chemicals affecting your child’s brain.

It’s a disturbing headline – but it’s not more anti-vaxer rhetoric or conspiracy theorists rubbish, it’s from a leading scientific journal and for parents – or parents to be – it is pretty concerning.

Researchers over the weekend released a paper, in the ‘Lancet Neurology’ that said the number of everyday chemicals known to be toxic to children’s developing brains has doubled over the last seven years.

The review by researchers, Dr. Philip Landrigan at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Dr. Philippe Grandjean from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston claims that the news is so concerning they are calling for a worldwide overhaul of the regulatory process in order to protect children’s brains.

The 11 chemicals toxic to your children



“We know from clinical information on poisoned adult patients that these chemicals can enter the brain through the blood brain barrier and cause neurological symptoms,” said Grandjean.

“When this happens in children or during pregnancy, those chemicals are extremely toxic, because we now know that the developing brain is a uniquely vulnerable organ. Also, the effects are permanent.”

They have dubbed it a “global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity”.

Previously the researchers had listed 5 chemicals that they felt may have detrimental affects upon developing brains.

This list has now been upgraded to 11.

“Previously the researchers had listed 5 chemicals that they felt may have detrimental affects upon developing brains.”

The researchers felt one of the biggest areas of concerns were those children who suffered the effects of toxic damage, but no formal diagnosis and suffered poor performance at school as a result.

Alice Walton writes for Forbes that “Neurobehavioral problems, like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, affect about 10-15% of kids born today, the authors say. Genes play a large role in some of these disorders – but not that large. Only about 30-40% of the cases of the disorders can be accounted for by genes alone, so environment must make up the other part.”


According to the studies authors at greatest risk are babies in utero and newborns.

“During these sensitive life stages,” say the authors, “Chemicals can cause permanent brain injury at low levels of exposure that would have little or no adverse effect in an adult.”

The chemicals they feel are of most concern are (from

1. Lead –  Its effects seem to be permanent, leading to the conclusion that there is no safe level of exposure.

2. Methylmercury– Affecting the neurological development of the foetus,exposure often comes from maternal intake of fish containing high levels of mercury, according to the World Health Organisation and the EPA.

3. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) – This family of chemicals has routinely been associated with reduced cognitive function in infancy and childhood. It is often present in foods, particularly fish, and can be passed along in breast milk.

4. Arsenic – When absorbed through drinking water, this chemical has been linked to reduced cognitive function in schoolchildren.

5. Toluene – Used as a solvent, maternal exposure has been linked to brain development problems and attention deficit in the child, according to the EPA and OSHA.

6. Manganese – In the drinking water in Bangladesh, for example, this chemical has been linked to lower scores in math, diminished intellectual function, and ADHD.

“Chemicals can cause permanent brain injury at low levels of exposure that would have little or no adverse effect in an adult.”

7. Fluoride – Higher levels of this chemical has been connected with a 7-point decrease in IQ in children. Note though that the SMH point out, “many health authorities including the World Health Organisation and Australian governments say low levels of fluoride in drinking water is safe and protects teeth against decay.” The researchers study was from children in China.


8. Chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides) – Linked to structural abnormalities of the brain and neurodevelopmental problems that persist up to age 7. These pesticides are banned in many parts of the world, but still used in many lower-income countries.

9. Tetrachloroethylene (AKAperchlorethylene)– These solvents have been linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour, and increased risk of psychiatric diagnosis. Mothers in certain professional roles, like nurse, chemist, cleaner, hairdresser, and beautician had higher levels of exposure.

10. The polybrominateddiphenyl ethers – These flame retardants are banned now, but believed to be neurotoxins. Prenatal exposure has been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in the child.

11. Bisphenol A (BPA), a common plastics additive, and phthalate, found in many cosmetics. BPA is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor, and, strongly suspected to affect neurodevelopment in children. Phthalates, which are common in personal products like nail polish and hair spray, have been routinely linked to shortened attention span and impaired social interactions in children.

The SMH on reporting this quote Oliver Jones, a lecturer in analytical chemistry at RMIT University. He told the newspaper that “ many of the chemicals listed in the review were already strictly controlled or banned in Australia and that, where they are used, it was not “for fun or with malice but to save lives”.

“That said, we should never be complacent and more reasoned debate and research into best practice of the management of chemicals is very welcome.”

For more information on BPA usage and Australia go here.

For more information on chemicals banned or severely restricted in Australia go here.

For more information about safe levels of fish to eat whilst pregnant go here.