10 Suspect Causes of Autism & Learning Disabilities
Autism risk: More than just genetics?
Dr. Landrigan says the goal of the list, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is to inform more doctors and nurses about the environmental triggers of autism, to increase funding for more studies, and to ultimately change chemical regulation in this country to better protect our children.
Where is it? The powerful neurotoxin is most often found in old paint, but can also leach from older plumbing.
Avoid it! Refrain from removing old paint if you're trying to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding, or if small children are in the house. If you fear your water contains lead, call EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline for help. In the meantime, a diet low in fat and high in calcium and iron, with foods like low-fat dairy and leafy green vegetables, can help block some harmful lead exposure.
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Where is it? The damaging form of mercury accumulates in species of fatty fish that grow to be large and higher up the food chain; consuming these fish is the No. 1 source of human exposure. Mercury has also been detected in high-fructose corn syrup.
Avoid it! Choose healthier options from the superfish list, including wild-caught Alaskan salmon or Pacific wild sardines.
Where is it? PCBs are found all over the environment—and inside most of us.
Avoid it! Eat lower on the food chain; PCBs accumulate in animal fat. Removing fish skin and trimming fatty parts of meat can help cut back on your family's PCB exposure.
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Where is it? Mostly causing damage in farming communities, this type of bug-killing chemical has been linked to an increased risk in autism among children born to mothers living in high-spray agricultural areas.
Avoid it! Support organic farming to reduce your risk of eating pesticide residues, as well as to protect people who live near or work on chemical farm operations. Children's greatest organochlorine exposure comes from conventional snap beans, tomatoes, and watermelons, so especially concentrate on sourcing these produce items organically.
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Where is it? In the air in areas exposed to heavy traffic.
Avoid it! Drive less or carpool to cut back on air pollution, commute during less busy hours, and if you live close to a major roadway, consider investing in a high-quality air purifier that does not produce ozone, such as IQAir models.
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Brominated Flame Retardants
Where is it? They're found in furniture, electronics, certain sodas and sports drinks, and even household dust.
Avoid it! Avoid furniture that meets California's TB117 law, a regulation that promotes the use of flame retardant chemicals. Be diligent about wet-mopping in the house and use a HEPA-filter-equipped vacuum to reduce flame retardant–laced dust. Opt for natural flooring materials, not carpeting and carpet padding, which could harbor flame retardants. As for the beverage aisle, steer clear of Mountain Dew and certain Gatorade and Powerade flavors that list BVO—brominated vegetable oil, a flame retardant—as an ingredient.
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Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Where is it? Aside from burned meat, PAHs are abundant in coal-tar-based driveway sealants and anti-dandruff shampoos, cigarette smoke, and mothballs.
Avoid it! Opt for nontoxic mothball alternatives, shun cigarette smoke, and look for safer driveway sealants that are free of coal-tar ingredients. Use rosemary marinades for meat to deter carcinogens from forming on meat cooked at high temperatures.
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Where is it? Banned from residential uses, this pesticide is still legal in agriculture, and residues have turned up on apples, bell peppers, cranberries, kale, grapes, peaches, and dozens of other foods.
Avoid it! Eat organic as often as possible. Studies have proven that pesticide levels in the body plummet when consumers switch to an organic eating regimen.
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Where is it? Bisphenol A (BPA) and plasticizing chemicals called phthalates are prime suspects linked to socialization and aggression problems in children, along with stunted growth, learning disabilities, and lower IQ. These chemicals are used in hundreds of everyday products, including soaps, shampoos, cleaners, and air fresheners.
Avoid it! Keep BPA out of your system by avoiding canned foods and beverages, as well as No. 7 plastics. To reduce phthalate exposure, nix scented candles and air fresheners, and avoid personal care products that list "parfum" or "fragrance" as an ingredient.
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