Toxins and Their Threat to American Intelligence

There are many types of pollution that threaten humans in many ways. However, a recent study indicates that certain agents may be affecting the aptitude of Americans. Researchers have identified a dozen chemicals that can actually reduce human intelligence, and this may only be the “tip of the iceberg” of the threat posed by environmental pollution.


Basing his study on previous research, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School theorizes that so-called neurotoxins, which directly affect the brain, may have collectively reduced the American “intelligence quotient” by approximately 40 million points. Dr. David Bellinger elaborated on his findings in a paper that was published by the National Institutes of Health. His conclusion was made after reviewing the intelligence levels of children whose mothers had been exposed to certain chemicals while they were pregnant.

The Bellinger report comes on the heels of another study that identified specific chemicals that can affect the brain. This research was conducted by Philippe Grandjean, who is also from Harvard, and Philip Landrigan, who is the dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, located in New York City.

In addition to confirming how they can degrade a person’s mental aptitude, this study linked some of the same chemicals to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Such agents include arsenic, ethanol, fluoride, lead and mercury. Grandjean noted that a number of other chemicals could be equally hazardous, identifying nearly 50 pesticides that are potentially harmful to humans.

Although chemicals used in the U.S. are supposedly regulated by the government, only a small number of products are rigorously tested for their toxicity. This system leaves consumers unaware of the dangers they may face at home or at work. The problem can be illustrated by the controversy surrounding the chemical chlorpyrifos, which was used in home pesticides for three decades until it was banned for that purpose in 1995. However, the agent is still being used in agriculture and in such public places as golf courses.

Neurotoxins cause the most damage during the prenatal period, when brain cells are being created and organized. Even a small amount of toxin, insufficient to cause harm to an adult, could seriously damage a fetus. However, adults and children who live in poor communities may also be at risk due to their greater exposure to hazardous materials. Beyond government legislation, personal action may lessen the threat from neurotoxins. According to Grandjean, the risk could be significantly reduced if pregnant women would simply turn to eating organically-grown food products.

Read the full article from The Atlantic here.