Our children are surrounded by dangerous chemicals, but if we know where they are hiding and we stay away from them the best we can, we can make a positive difference in their overall health and well-being.  This information is so important because our baby’s systems are still developing and chemicals that hide in foods, water, furniture, toys, etc. can effect them for the long term.  Reducing their exposure while in the womb and while they are young is critical.

Neurotoxicants are chemicals that damage the nervous system; they are linked to the continuing rise in learning, behavior and other developmental problems.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a list with the strongest evidence of developmental neurotoxins, and the Feingold Association has taken that list and broken it down to show which ones are of most concern to our little ones.

The Feingold Association of the United States, Inc., founded in 1976, is a non-profit organization whose purposes are to support its members in the implementation of the Feingold Program and to generate awareness of the potential role of foods and synthetic additives in behavioral, learning and health problems.  The program is based on a diet eliminating synthetic colors, synthetic flavors, aspartame, and the preservatives BHA, BHT and TBHQ.

Harming our Children

Neurotoxicants are chemicals that damage the nervous system; they are linked to the continuing rise in learning, behavior and other developmental problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a list of chemicals in our environment (including food additives, medicine, cosmetics and household products) which appear to be the most harmful.  Their focus is on pollutants that are most likely to cause damage to children, infants and the developing fetus.

Chemicals on the list that are of particular interest to Pure Facts readers (the newsletter of the Feingold Assocaion of the United States) include:

Aspartame – the widely-used synthetic sweetener that is sold under names like NutraSweet and Equal.
Benzene – occurs both naturally and synthetically.  It is regarded as one of the most dangerous of the chemicals that can be found as a containant in food dyes.
Bisphenol A – also known as BPA, is used to make plastics.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – a petroeum-based preservative that is eliminated on the Feingold Diet.
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) – a cousin of BHA, also eliminated on the Feingold Diet.
DEET – a chemical commonly used in insect repellents.
Lindane – still found in head lice treatment products.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – This is a widely-used flavor enhancer that is often disguised under other names.
Polybromated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – flame retardants.
Phthalate, di-(2-ethylhexyl) used in soft plastics.
Trichloroethylene – long used in dry cleaning, but still used in industry.

“Behavioral toxicology is a field defined as a race to figure out what’s going wrong and how to deal with it before we’re too stupid to care.” Edward Levin, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

A growing number of professionals are concluding that there has been a drastic rise in the number of children diagnosed with a neurobehavioral disorder, including ADHD and autism spectrum disorders, and that this is not simply due to better diagnostic techniques. Today, the number is one child in six.  Neurological problems have increased in adults as well, and growing numbers are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

New chemicals are being created every day and are permitted to be used with out first being tested for safety.

Not only do current regulations allow companies to add new chemicals to our environment with out having to first test them, but the EPA is not allowed to do the testing either.  Thanks to the power of the industry lobbies, the agency can only investigate a chemical after it has been identified as a toxin.

Even then, there is no assurance the public will be protected from that substance; many of the 100 chemicals that are on this list to be investigated have a long history of studies that show the harm they cause.

Who is Harmed?

Judging the effects of a chemical is not a simple matter.  While exposure to a toxin can be expected to harm everyone,  only some people will show a dramatic effect.  Just as some children have an obvious re action to food additives and some do not, the same is true for other synthetic chemicals.  As we learn more about prenatal development, we see there are critical periods when the fetus is more vulnerable to a particular type of toxin.  Fetal development follows a predicable time table, so a mother’s exposure during the first trimester might have a different out come than her exposure during the third trimester.  (This was tragically demonstrated in the 1960s when expectant mothers took the drug Thalidomide during the period when limbs were forming.)

In the 1970s, Dr. Feingold wrote about things that are just now being recognized by scientists.

The Role Of Genes

The effect of a toxin will also depend upon what Dr. Feingold referred to as the “genetic predisposition” or the genes that set one child up to be more susceptible than an other.  He believed that certain food additives do not “cause” a reaction but “trigger” such a response in a person who has what he termed “the appropriate genetic profile.”  A recent paper by Dr. Jim Stevenson and colleagues in Britain shed new light on this.  Children with a slight genetic variation have difficulty getting rid of histamine, which is created by our bodies in response to exposure to various things, including additives.  Extra histamine can travel to the brain where it acts as a neurotransmitter, influencing behavior.

[See the September, 2010 issue of Pure Facts for details.]


Despite these variations, animal studies have been a good predictor of the effects (or lack of them) that a particular chemical is likely to have on humans.  These studies can evaluate behavioral changes as well as health effects. The downside is that testing is costly and can take a long time.  This is one reason the chemical manufacturers don’t want to be required to first prove their products are safe before putting them on the market.

Critics are glad to see new tests, but point out that there have already been many studies of these chemicals, showing harm.

Playing the Game

Since the Feingold Association was first formed in the 1970s, we have watched the industry responses to tests that challenge their bottom line.  When animal tests show a product is not toxic, they use them to support the industry position.  But when animal tests show harm, the claim is that a rat is not a human and so you can not draw any conclusions from the tests.

New “invitro” tests can screen chemicals quickly without the need to use animals, and it is hoped that this will speed up the process.  However, such tests could potentially miss some of the more subtle effects that can be identified in animal studies.

An other tool that is useful in identifying toxins is an “epidemiological” study where a geographic population is examined.  The subjects have all been exposed to a chemical, and the researchers calculate the number of people affected and the symptoms they show.


For the past 12 years, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have been conducting an epidemiological study of farm workers in the Salinas Valley, referred to as “the world’s salad bowl” be
cause so many fruits and vegetables are grown there.  They collect data on the level of pesticide exposure in expectant mothers and their children and show how this correlates with the later development of behavior, learning and developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders.¨

Most of the chemicals in use have been added to our food and air, but never been tested for safety.

Parkinson’s disease Research at Duke University and UCLA has shown that exposure to pesticides is linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease.  It has long been known that one of the risk factors for developing the disease is having a relative who has it.  But in the study of 319 patients with Parkinson’s and 200 of their relatives without, the researchers found a clear link between the disease and exposure to pesticides. [BioMedCentral-Neurology, June 2008] Exposure to pesticides when they are young dramatically  increases a person’s likelihood of  developing Parkinson’s disease when they are older.  This was the finding of researchers studying a population sample in California’s Central Valley.  There searchers believe that exposure to more than one pesticide is particularly damaging, in creasing the harmful effects of both.  [American Journal of Epidemiology, April 15, 2009]

Reprinted from Pure Facts, the newsletter of the Feingold Association of the United States, www.feingold.org.