11 Everyday Chemicals Causing Brain Damage in Our Children

A glass of cold water. Your comfy couch. A fresh supply of dry-cleaned clothes. All around us, every day, we’re exposed to chemicals that can damage the brains of unborn and young children — causing things like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and lost IQ points.

This is the stark reality according to two globally renowned doctors in an article published recently in the journal Lancet Neurology. Doctors Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City argue that chemicals should be better tested before allowed on the market, and are calling for a global prevention strategy.

This is not the first time these prestigious researchers have sounded the alarm — between the two of them they have hundreds of studies and decades of collective evidence to substantiate their fears.

Jessica Alba & Christopher Gavigan Meet with Dr. Philip Landrigan
Co-Founders Jessica Alba & Christopher Gavigan meet with children’s health advocate and long-time Honest supporter Dr. Philip Landrigan.

We’re listening and heeding the warnings as best as we can. Here’s how you can too — by avoiding the 11 chemicals outlined in Grandjean and Landrigan’s article. To help, we’re sharing the main sources of exposure to these chemicals so you can easily protect your family.

First, always follow these three easy steps to reduce exposure not only to many of the chemicals listed below, but a slew of others too.

  1. Take off your shoes at the door to avoid tracking contaminated dust and dirt into your home.

  2. Wet mop and dust regularly. Many chemicals cling to dust, so keeping a clean house is more important than ever.

  3. Wash hands frequently. That despicable dust inevitably ends up on our hands. For little ones, hand to mouth behavior is a significant exposure route. And, even for us big guys, if we’re not washing before eating or snacking, we’re ingesting dust.

Now, here’s how to significantly reduce your exposure to the 11 brain-draining chemicals highlighted by Grandjean and Landrigan.

Lead. If you live in a home built before 1978, have your home tested for lead. If you’re pregnant or have a small child, ask your family doctor to check your blood lead level.

Methylmercury. Eat safer fish. Avoid swordfish, tilefish, King mackerel, and shark. The U.S. EPA and FDA advise eating up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury like shrimp, canned light tuna (not albacore), salmon, pollock, and catfish. Check out Seafood Watch for more tips, a pocket guide, and a handy app.

Arsenic. The main source of exposure to arsenic is typically our diets. A recent study from Dartmouth College identified the highest levels of arsenic in people who drank beer and white wine and who ate a lot of Brussel sprouts and dark meat fish, which include tuna steaks, mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish, and swordfish. That’s not to say you shouldn’t eat any of these things, you should just enjoy them in moderation.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Again, our diets are the main source of exposure to PCBs and the major culprit is fatty fish — especially sportfish caught in contaminated waters and bottom feeders like carp.

Toluene. This solvent is used in a wide variety of products with the highest levels in gasoline fumes and exhaust, conventional paints and finishes, nail polish, and some cleaners and adhesives.

Manganese. Manganese is kind of an oddball in this list because it’s a natural element that’s vital to healthy nutrition. But too much can be a bad thing. Watch your consumption via supplements and fortified foods.

Fluoride. The damning evidence against fluoride is at high levels found in drinking water that caused problems in China. The low levels in the U.S. are presumably safe, but it would be prudent to assess your family’s cumulative exposure from water and oral care products.

Chlorpyrifos. Choose organic apples and sweet bell peppers to avoid ingesting this pesticide. (Check out Pesticide Action Network’s “What’s on My Food” database to find more foods that may have this residue.)

Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). This pesticide was banned in the 1970s, but it persists in the environment and contaminates animal fats. Choose low fat dairy products and lean meats and fish.

Tetrachloroethylene (PERC). PERC is a solvent often used in dry cleaning, so opt for professional wet cleaning or liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). This class of flame retardants has been almost entirely phased out as of December 2013, but their widespread usage in furniture, electronics, and other furnishings means you likely have it in your home. The best way to reduce exposure is by wet mopping, dusting, and washing your hands frequently.

We know it may seem overwhelming and scary, but a few simple tweaks to your diet and cleaning habits will go a long way towards protecting your family. Take it one step at a time and remember that spending quality time with your little ones — reading, crafting, playing, cuddling — all do wonders for boosting brain potential, too!

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  • Lindsay

    Great information, thanks for sharing!