Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Posted by David Strong, member of DEA Management Committee

The Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders developed by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative is a valuable summary of evidence regarding numerous environmental agents known to, and others increasingly suspected to, adversely affect brain development.  It details the mechanisms involved, recommendations for further research and ethical and policy considerations.   It is a readable document which rightly concludes that “given the established knowledge, protecting children from neurotoxic environmental exposures from the earliest stages of fetal development clearly is an essential public health measure if we are to help prevent learning and developmental disorders and create an environment in which children can reach and maintain their full potential.

Executive Summary: Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders

“Given the established knowledge, protecting children from neurotoxic environmental exposures from the earliest stages of fetal development clearly is an essential public health measure if we are to help prevent learning and developmental disorders and create an environment in which children can reach and maintain their full potential.”

In order to document and provide support to prevent neurodevelopment disorders, the Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders was developed by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative (posted at http://www.iceh.org/LDDI.html). This statement is intended as a guide to scientists, medical professionals, policymakers, public health advocates, and the general public in advancing their efforts to address the important individual and social issues raised by learning and developmental disabilities.

This consensus statement outlines the current scientific understanding of the links between environmental factors and learning and developmental disabilities. Environmental agents that we are confident cause learning and developmental disabilities in humans include: alcohol, lead, mercury, PCBs, PBDEs, manganese, arsenic, solvents, PAHs, pesticides and nicotine/environmental tobacco smoke. An overview of the evidence regarding these agents is presented, along with emerging evidence about other potential contributors: endocrine disruptors, fluoride and food additives. The statement also identifies important research areas that hold promise of further advancing our understanding of these links.

With a glossary and more than 200 references, the statement was drafted and reviewed by a committee of scientists and health professionals underscoring the following:

1. The scientific evidence reviewed in this statement indicates environmental contaminants are an important cause of learning and developmental disabilities. The proportion of environmentally induced LDDs is a question of profound human, scientific and public
policy significance. Existing animal and human data suggest that a greater proportion is environmentally influenced than has yet been generally realized or than can be demonstrated with scientific certainty.

2. The consequences of LDDs are most significant for the affected individual but also have profound implications for the family, school system, local community and greater society. Despite some uncertainty, there is sufficient knowledge to take preventive action
to reduce fetal and childhood exposures to environmental contaminants. Given the serious consequences of LDDs, a precautionary approach is warranted to protect the most vulnerable of our society.

A statement of policy recommendations based on this scientific statement will be available for public endorsement in 2008. For more information contact Nancy Snow at the Institute for Children’s Environmental Health, nsnow@iceh.org.