Safety and children’s brains: who has to prove what?

If a report comes out suggesting that toxic chemicals can cause damage to young children’s brains: should the burden of proof be on the researchers who say so, or upon the chemical manufacturers to prove that they’re wrong?

A CNN report this last Friday highlighted the work of two research clinicians from New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Boston’s School of Public Health at Harvard, suggesting that the number of chemicals that are toxic to children’s brains has doubled over the last seven years. A spokesman for the American Chemistry Council – the name sounds worthy and dispassionate but describes a trade association for companies engaged in the business of chemistry – accuses the researchers of overstating their case and re-hashing old work.

The essence of the “old work” that is allegedly being overstated reflects the life’s work of two researchers who published data eight years ago suggesting links between “neurotoxicants” and issues with brain function such as ADHD, autism and dyslexia. They are now so worried that they are calling for a worldwide review of regulation expressly to protect children’s brains.

What’s to overstate here? If they are reinforcing something genuinely alarming, are we to be deflected by an industrial vested interest rubbishing their efforts as “re-hashing”? Really? Must the burden of proof be on the researchers worried that the brains of our future might be adversely affected by lead, arsenic and methylmercury (amongst others)?

We need to stand up to Big Chemistry as much as need to stand up to Big Food. The message? Think of our children not just as our future but starting from Zero on the Pollution Scale. If you wish to do anything that could alter their brain or body chemistry, the burden is upon you to prove that it won’t.

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