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How Toxic Chemicals Affect the Health of Children


It is estimated that nearly 12 million children in the United States suffer from one or more learning, developmental, or behavioral disabilities.19 According to the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, "An epidemic of developmental, learning, and behavioral disabilities has become evident among children," and environmental neurotoxins are to blame.  "Neurotoxicants are not merely a potential threat to children." they say.  "Adverse impacts are seen at current exposure levels." 19

Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and brain development.  Of the top 20 chemicals reported by the Toxics Release Inventory in 1997, almost three-quarters are known or suspected neurotoxins.  They include ammonia, chlorine, toluene, xylene, methyl ethyl ketone - all common in cleaning products.

Dr. Doris Rapp, an expert on the treatment of environmental illness, has treated hundreds of children for learning problems and behavior changes caused by exposures to neurotoxins.  One of Dr. Rapp's young patients, Linda, showed a dramatic change of personality and ability to think in response to chlorine, a chemicals found in the laundry rooms of most American homes, as well as in other cleaning products such as scouring powder and dishwasher detergent.  The problem was first discovered when Linda was about four years old.  Her mother noticed that, after Linda swam in a chlorinated pool, she would cry much more easily than normal, and would complain of a headache and leg cramps.  Even though she was very bright and did well in school, she could not follow even simple instructions after swimming class.  This problem happened so frequently that eventually she had to end her swimming lessons.

When Linda was thirteen, the chlorine problem recurred.  One afternoon she was doing her homework in her brother's room, and, as she wrote, she became extremely irritable and tearful -- both the content of her composition and her handwriting suddenly began to deteriorate.  Her mother found that here was a duct leading directly from the basement laundry room into the area where Linda was writing.  At the time Linda's behavior changed, her mother had just used chlorine bleach in the laundry room.  Even a trace of the chlorine odor had affected Linda's brain. 20

There is clear evidence that neurotoxins can cause permanent brain damage if children are exposed to them while their brains and nervous systems are still developing.  At high doses, neurotoxins can result in coma, convulsions, respiratory paralysis, and death.  At lower doses, neurotoxin exposure can show up as disturbed mood, altered behavior, impaired thinking, and attention problems.3

It's important to remember that only 10% of the chemicals that appear in household products have been tested for their ability to cause nervous system disorders,4 which can range from headaches and dizziness to multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease.

We know little about the long-term effect of exposure to these chemicals, but doctors have identified a condition known as toxic encephalopathy, which is brought on by repeated exposure to solvents, such as those found in cleaning products, over several years.  Symptoms include memory loss, behavioral changes, emotional instability, confusion, inability to concentrate, neurological and personality changes, and problems with manual dexterity. 21

Do you have or know a child on Ritalin?  the numbers are rising.  In 1993, 4.5 million children took the drug Ritalin so they could sit still long enough to learn to read and write.  by 1998, 11.4 million children were being drugged with Ritalin.8  Ritalin is a "Class-2" narcotic!  What could be wrong?  Why is such a powerful drug being used to control our children's behavior?  Most veteran teachers will tell youth at the increased use of Ritalin is not the result of an increased awareness in ADD, as some would argue, but an increase in the actual number of cases.  Think back to when you were in school.  Was half of your class out of control?  Were most of your friends taking medication for hyperactivity?

Dr. Rapp says that many of these children are being misdiagnosed.  She believes as many as two-thirds of the millions of children on Ritalin are actually suffering from acute allergic reaction to environmental agents found at home and in schools.  These children do not need powerful drugs.  Removal of certain chemicals, and a change of diet often solve the problem, and Dr. Rapp has proven this over and over again.4

When Ryan was four, he started school.  He would leave home in the morning feeling fine but come back weak and tired.  while in the gym at school, he became so weak he had to be carried out.  Ryan's mother noticed that they sprayed the tabletops and rest area of his classroom with a popular aerosol disinfectant.

Dr. Rapp tested Ryan by spraying a four-inch piece of paper towel with the same disinfectant and placing it a few feet away from Ryan.  Within thirty minutes, Ryan was obviously different.  He could no longer hold his pencil, and his writing skills completely collapsed.  Several tests confirmed his reaction. 4

Eight-year-old Peter's first class in the morning was taught by a teacher who smoked heavily and smelled strongly of perfume.  In this class, arithmetic, Peter typically had difficulty remembering, thinking, and completing his work.  His teacher noticed on some days he could not even add two and two.  Peter improved over the course of the morning when he had another teacher who did not smell of either tobacco or perfume. However, the smell of perfume from lunchroom aides, and the odor of cleaners from the dish room, caused his ability to learn and concentrate to deteriorate again.

Dr. Rapp confirmed Peter's sensitivities to many chemicals.  Perfumes, colognes, and fragrances can contain harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, ethanol, acetone, methyl chloride, and benzene derivatives.  All can damage the nervous system. Peter now goes to school with an oxygen tank, in case he needs to counteract a reaction. 4

These reactions might be considered severe, but they represent a growing number of young people who are reacting to chemicals in the air in their homes and at school.  Just how many children experience learning problems because of chemicals in their environment?  It's impossible to know.  It may be that a significant number of children have only a slight reaction.  Wouldn't it be a tragedy if one of your children should fail to live up to his learning potential because of neurotoxins in his environment?  It's a tragedy that should never happen because we can easily remove these toxic chemicals from our children's home and school environments.

According to Sherry Rogers, M.D., another environmental specialist, the symptoms produced by chemical sensitivity are as varied as the people who are affected.22  While some children react with a breakdown of learning ability, other children become hyperactive.

When chuck was six years old, he would make very loud noises, become uncontrollably bouncy, and hit other children when exposed to certain chemicals. Fumes from furniture polish affected him so strongly that he told his mother he wanted to jump off the roof!4

These stories barely begin to describe the array of reactions children can have to chemical neurotoxins.  Reactions are unpredictable and often change over time. It's better to protect your children by significantly reducing their exposure.  by switching to brands that do not use chemicals like phenol and formaldehyde you can help your children reach their full potential.


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