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Environ Health Perspect. 2001 December; 109(Suppl 6): 813–816.
PMCID: PMC1240616
Research Article

Toxic threats to neurologic development of children.


Learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental delays, and emotional and behavioral problems are among childhood disabilities of increasing concern. Interacting genetic, environmental, and social factors are important determinants of childhood brain development and function. For many reasons, however, studying neurodevelopmental vulnerabilities in children is challenging. Moreover, inadequate incidence and trend data interfere with full understanding of the magnitude of the problem. Despite these difficulties, extensive laboratory and clinical studies of several neurodevelopmental toxicants, including lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, alcohol, and nicotine, demonstrate the unique vulnerability of the developing brain to environmental agents at exposure levels that have no lasting effect in adults. Historically, understanding the effects of these toxicants on the developing brain has emerged slowly while generations of children are exposed to unsafe levels. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, neurodevelopmental toxicity data are missing for most industrial chemicals in widespread use, even when populationwide exposures are documented. The personal, family, and communitywide costs of developmental disabilities are profound. In addition to the need for more research, a preventive public health response requires mitigation of exposures to potential neurodevelopmental toxicants when available evidence establishes the plausibility of harm, despite residual toxicologic uncertainties.

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