Why Are We Showering Our Children with Chemicals?

Photo: Shirley

Bhoomi feature that takes a hard look at chemicals in our lives and the chemicals we unwittingly expose our children to.

An old adage in India goes, “Treat a child like a god till the age of seven.” We can safely say it means that the first seven years are the most important foundational years of a human being. Indeed, today, science tells us that these are the years of a child’s phenomenal cognitive, social, physical and spiritual development. During these early years, brain science research confirms, trillions of neural connections are made. During these years, too, children need to be showered with love and affection and given the best in nutrition so that their growth and development, which seem almost magical, are supported.

But we live in a strange age: we do not know what our children are being exposed to. Very few parents seem to take care regarding the chemical additives and taste enhancers in the processed foods their children eat – cakes, biscuits, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, burgers and fries, etc.

However, the fact is that babies are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of chemicals than adults because of their size, their habit of putting things into their mouth and the fact that they move close to the ground. They can be affected by chemicals while in the womb, since chemicals in a pregnant woman’s body, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, mercury and insecticides can pass through the placenta into the growing foetus directly through the bloodstream.

Scientists have found that a vast number – far higher than earlier thought – of chemicals works in insidious ways, disrupting our endocrine and neuro-muscular systems. But we tend to think in simplistic, limiting linear ways and do not understand the systemic ways of Nature. And when we cannot establish a direct cause-and-effect connection between exposure to a given chemical and the neurological problems that causes, we believe all is well.

Research Findings

Many studies have linked poor nutrition with low IQ in children. Although that is well-known “Grandma’s wisdom,” scientific proof exists today to prove that if your child does not get healthy food (including, ideally, breast milk) in infancy, its future intelligence could be adversely impacted. A diet high in fats, sugars and processed foods in early childhood, particularly until a child is three years old, may play a big role in the faulty development of the brain and thus affect behaviour, learning performance and IQ in later life.

Philippe Grandjean & Philip J. Landrigan, in their study “Neurobehavioural Effects of Developmental Toxicity” (The Lancet Neurology, Mar 2014), argue that new chemicals may be contributing to what they dub the “global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity.” They report that the number of chemicals contributing to brain disorders in children has doubled since 2006 and present a list of 11 toxic chemicals affecting brain development in children:

  • Lead
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Arsenic
  • Toluene(in paint thinner , nail polish etc)
  • Tetrachloroethylene
  • Methyl mercury
  • Fluoride (in water, toothpaste, etc)
  • Dichlordiphenyl
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Manganese

Chemicals in Processed Food 

Many studies have shown that poor nutrition in childhood and infancy can have a huge adverse impact on children’s intelligence. It is not surprising that children with healthier diets had higher IQ levels.

Apart from resulting in poorer intelligence, junk food and a diet of non-nutritious restaurant foods can cause obesity, asthma, eczema, allergies, hyperactivity and autoimmune diseases. The US government’s National Institutes of Health have even gone on record to say that four of the six leading causes of death in the US are linked to unhealthy diet. We, in India, need to beware of processed foods: we are rapidly getting taken in by the glamour, convenience and heightened taste that toxins in those foods bring.

As parents, it is important to carefully consider the types of foods we feed our children with – not to mention ourselves – at home and in restaurants, as research has shown that children get easily addicted to the foods they are exposed to in early childhood.

Hyperactivity and other Disorders in Children

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis,”, says Grandjean. “They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.”

Today, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is highly correlated with exposure to chemicals and, contrary to what may seem to be the case, is on the increase. Parents often believe that the heightened activity of their child is a mark of its intelligence and fail to notice that the fidgetiness is accompanied by a short attention span. Not until the problem manifests itself in under-performance at school do they wake up to the possibility that it could be ADHD.

Chemicals in Toys and Household Items

A study in Sweden, found that children in homes that have dishwashers have more allergies. The reason for this was the chemical detergents and high temperatures inside the dishwashers, which killed bacteria essential for health.

Bisphenol A is an endocrine disrupter found in plastic and other items used by children. It can lead to dangerous consequences if the objects are those that little children put into their mouths. Formaldehyde and arsenic are carcinogens found in pressed-wood products. Arsenic is found also in many foods. Many fish and fish products contain mercury, too. And this is only the tip of the iceberg – we simply do not have enough data about the amounts of all the dangerous chemicals children are exposed to.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has put out several educational presentations and reports on toxic chemicals that affect children. However, such research findings have had little impact on governments and powerful corporate businesses because, among other reasons, it is difficult to estimate the full extent of the impact on children’s health of hazardous chemicals in food: the latency periods that occur between exposure and outcome are long. WHO has also reported that, in 13 countries in Europe, the adult intake of heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium is sometimes 10-30 percent higher than safe levels.

Chemicals are all around us – in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the consumer goods we use. All inanimate matter, almost all man-made products and much living matter, too, contain significant quantities of chemicals. It is difficult to determine which chemicals are hazardous and which of them affects whom, how and when. Given that children are not able to instinctively avoid certain chemicals as some animals can, we, as parents, need to take extra care about the risks we put our children at. Rather than trying to eliminate possibly harmful foods and products, it would be much easier to stay with natural, whole, organic and home-cooked food and toys made of natural materials and keep educating ourselves about our chemical-soaked world.


  • Unsafe: The Truth behind Everyday Chemicals
  • Children’s Diseases Linked to Chemicals Are on the Rise from: articles.mercola.com
  • WHO Presentation on Chemicals and Children


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