This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on PVC.


Remember that powerful commercial from back in the 80’s? Growing up, I couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing it (or someone making fun of it).  This is your brain.  This is your brain on drugs…Any questions?

Well, this is your brain.  This is your brain on PVC.

As children and teachers are going back to school across America, scientists are sounding the alarm about ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemicals lurking inside of our schools: phthalates in PVC/vinyl building materials, school and office supplies.

A new study by researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health heightens concerns over the potential effects on children’s brain development.  The new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives Journal found that:

“exposures to two of the phthalates significantly increased the odds of motor delay, an indication of potential future problems with fine and gross motor coordination. Among girls, one of the phthalates was associated with significant decreases in mental development. Prenatal exposures to three of the phthalates were also significantly associated with behavior problems including emotionally reactive behavior, anxiety/depression, somatic complaints and withdrawn behavior.”

The Columbia University press release states that:

“Recent studies of school-age children have provided preliminary links between prenatal exposure to phthalates and developmental problems. The study is the first to examine prenatal phthalate exposure and the prevalence of mental, motor and behavioral problems in children who are in the preschool years.”

According to lead researcher Dr. Robin Whyatt from Columbia University:

“Our results suggest that prenatal exposure to these phthalates adversely affects child mental, motor and behavioral development during the preschool years.  The results add to a growing public health concern about the widespread use of phthalates in consumer products.”

Skeptics may wonder if other factors played a role, but the researchers controlled for a range of factors like tobacco smoke, lead, pesticides, race, ethnicity, age, marital status, and others.  Even after controlling for these various factors, there was still a significant link between the mothers’ phthalate levels and their children’s development.

And let’s not forget, over 90% of phthalates are used in PVC products, like the vinyl flooring in our kids’ schools.  They’re banned in toys, but widespread in our schools.

Learning and Developmental Disabilities: By the Numbers.

As we continue to learn more and more about the connections between exposure to toxic chemicals like phthalates and impacts on our brain and development, learning and developmental disabilities have been on the rise.

Let’s look at some numbers:

  • The incidence of learning and developmental disabilities appears to be rising, affecting about one in six children in the U.S.
  • The number of children in special education programs classified with learning disabilities increased 191% from 1977 to 1994.
  • Since the early 1990s, reported cases of autism spectrum disorder have increased tenfold.  One in a hundred American children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed childhood psychiatric disorder in the United States. Recent evidence suggests the prevalence may be as high as 17% for all school children.
  • The US has seen a 6-fold increase in ADHD between the years 1985 (0.7 million cases) and 2000 (4–5 million cases).

And even worse, phthalates aren’t the only PVC chemicals that have been linked to impacts on the brain.  It’s also the vinyl chloride, dioxin, mercury, and lead that are all released during the PVC lifecycle.

Mounting Evidence: When Will We Take Action?

Earlier this summer, I blogged about other new studies that found phthalates are impacting our hormones and impacting our brain development. Researchers at Environmental Health News just recently posted a nice summary of the Korean study we earlier blogged about.   They report:

“Increasing exposure to plastic-softening chemicals in pregnant women was associated with poorer development in their baby boys, finds a study that examined mental and motor skills in 6-month-old infants.”

“The results show that the higher the exposure to phthalates in the moms, the lower the scores of infant development, including both cognitive and motor behavior. However, the association was only identified in sons, not in daughters.”

“Animal studies suggest prenatal phthalate exposure may influence neurodevelopment and contribute to hyperactive and impulsive – ADHD-like symptoms – behavior. Similar conclusions were drawn from a study with school-aged children. Other studies identify links between phthalates and social impairments in children.”

They also recently reported on another new scientific study that found the phthalate DEHP:

“changed brain development in growing male rats when exposure occurs during a sensitive phase. The same exposure did not affect female rats, report researchers in the journal Neuroscience. The animal study shows that DEHP can disrupt the normal development of the hippocampus in young male rats by reducing the number of cells and nerve connections that form.”

The evidence keeps mounting.  And mounting.  And mounting.

How much more evidence do we need before we take action to protect the health and development of our young ones?

This is Your Brain.  This is Your Brain on PVC. 

Any questions?

  • Nancy Michelli

    And phthalates are found in all fragrance/perfume/parfum so ditch the fragranced products!