Some chemicals found in consumer goods damage children's brain development, says WWF Study

June 4, 2004

Brussels, 03 Jun 2004

A report by the World Wide Fund (WWF) has found that some chemical substances found in consumer goods like television sets, furniture, fish and meat prevent children's brains from developing properly.

The WWF report 'Compromising our children', which gathered the latest research on the impact of man-made chemicals, also claims that laws required to phase out the potentially most dangerous substances are still not in place. The environmental group is calling on the European Union to take a strong approach to safety regulation.

Chemicals reported to cause neurotoxic effects are omnipresent, the WWF report states. They include brominated flame retardants used in electronic good and furnishings, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in some building materials and old industrial transformers, and dioxins emitted by industrial processes and power stations.

All over the EU, symptoms such as reduced movement skills, poorer memory and a lower IQ have been recorded as the result of the phenomenon, says the report.

'It seems unbelievable that although science has shown that chemicals are affecting children's mental abilities and their ability to make sense of their world, we are still missing vital safety data on most chemicals in use,' said the WWF in a statement.

'In effect we are all living in a global chemical experiment of which we don't know the outcome,' added Gwynne Lyons, WWF toxic adviser.

The report is released amid growing concern about the role chemicals play in triggering increasingly common disabilities such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Children's developing brains are particularly sensitive to the effects of chemicals. As both the brain and the nervous system develop over a long period of time, from the womb to puberty, chemicals can derail normal development and function at many stages of a child's life.

The European Commission now regards the increasing occurrence of development and learning disability as a 'significant public health problem'. However, the WWF believes that most chemicals on the market do not have sufficient safety information, particularly about their ability to cause developmental problems or birth defects. They argue that too little is know about the toxicity to the brain and the nervous system of the 70,000 man-made chemicals that exist.

Although there is a lack of hard evidence, US scientists have estimated that up to ten percent of all neurobehavioral disorders are caused wholly or partly by toxic exposure. This could mean exposure to chemicals may explain a wide variety of cases of behavioural and mental problems currently classified as due to unknown causes, the WWF notes.

The Commission has already responded to concerns. Indeed, alarmed at the way flame retardants are accumulating in people, it has require firms producing this product - Deca brominated diphenyl ether (Deca-BDE) - to cut emissions from their factories. Sweden is also looking to phase out the chemical after studies showed that Deca-BDE causes behavioural abnormalities in mice.

Reacting to the WWF report, Jan Royall, head of the European Commission in Wales, said, 'The European Commission takes the issue of chemicals and the protection of human health seriously. The WWF's study shows precisely why we need a better understanding of the potential risks associated with the large number of chemicals in use today.'

'The current system has not produced sufficient information about the effects of existing chemicals on human health and the environment. That's why we have proposed new rules on chemical regulation with the health and well-being of the general public, and children in particular, at the forefront of our minds whilst also ensuring that Europe's chemical industry can remain competitive. The new rules would, if agreed, help protect human health and the environment, as well as increase transparency in the chemical industry. It is, however, up to MEPs and national governments to agree to these new rules, and we would therefore urge them to do so,' he added in an interview with IC Wales. To read the full text of the report, please visit: ildren.pdf

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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