Scientists warn of chemical-autism link
June 7th, 2011
06:43 PM ET

Scientists warn of chemical-autism link

Autism and environmental health experts called for greater scrutiny of chemicals found in the environment, which could potentially lead to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, in a conference call Tuesday.

"We live, breathe and start our families in the presence of toxic chemical mixtures and constant low-level toxic exposures, in stark contrast to the way chemicals are tested for safety," said Donna Ferullo, Director of Program Research at The Autism Society.

"Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe," she said.

Autism spectrum disorders are being diagnosed at unprecedented rates, partly because of improved diagnostic tools and criteria, but also a host of other factors including what mothers-to-be are exposed and consequently their unborn children too, said Irva Hertz-Piccotto, Chief of the Division of Environmental Health at the University of California, Davis, and a faculty member at the Mind Institute.

About 1 in 110 children in the United States has autism, a group of developmental disorders that lead to impairments in behavior, communication and socialization. The cost of autism is staggering: $3.2 million for the care of a person with autism throughout his or her life; behavioral therapy can be hard to come by and be very limited,  and most medications don't help much.

Studies have strongly suggested a genetic component in the cause of autism, but it's becoming clear that genetics alone isn't the whole story; there could be interactions between susceptibility genes and environmental chemicals.

Recent research from her group, appearing in the journal Epidemiology, showed that prenatal vitamins taken prior to conception seem to interact with certain metabolizing genes that are inherited.  Those women who did not take the vitamins, and had the high-risk genotypes, were more likely to have a child with autism.  Still, this was a small study limited in scope, and more research should be done to confirm these findings.

The central nervous system of the fetus is sensitive to a wide range of chemicals, Hertz-Piccotto said.  Hormones, such as estrogens and androgens, are essential for proper brain development. Endocrine-disrupting compounds need more research, she said. Flame-retardant chemicals called PBDEs interfere with the body's hormones.  Even though many of them are no longer used in manufacturing, they can hang around in the environment and the human body for a long time.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aware of concerns about these chemicals and is working on accessing substitutions (see the action plan).

Bisphenol A, present in plastic food packaging and water bottles, among other products, is another big concern, she said, because it could interfere with the body's natural estrogen system; antimicrobials added to soaps, toothpaste and other products can artificially enhance androgenic activity.

"That means that they could potentially play a role in autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders," Hertz-Piccotto said.

Moreover, many children with autism spectrum disorders have abnormal immune responses. The chemical messengers in the immune system interact with the receptors in the brain, so chemicals that affect immunity could also be implicated in autism.

Thyroid dysfunction is common in children with autism that psychiatrist Dr. Suruchi Chandra sees, even though that's not part of the classical symptoms of the condition.  She believes the abnormalities are due to the thyroid hormone disruptors such as BPA and flame retardants.

"Thyroid hormone is critical for brain development in early life, and even small alterations in hormone levels can have serious consequences; long-lasting and perhaps irreversible consequences in terms of brain function," she said.

Air pollution from traffic and certain pesticides have also been shown to have associations with autism, studies have shown.  Maternal conditions could partially result from chemicals in the environment.

Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, called for an update of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has proposed a stricter version that would require all industrial chemicals to be tested for safety.

UPDATE: Since so many of you have asked, I wanted to clarify that this discussion does not relate to vaccines. The scientific evidence available has shown again and again that vaccines do not cause autism.

soundoff (2,292 Responses)
  1. RV Plumbing Repair Near Me

    After I initially commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!


    June 23, 2021 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RV Repair Near Here

    I need to to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely loved every bit of it. I've got you book-marked to look at new stuff you postÖ


    June 23, 2021 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. land for sale near me


    June 23, 2021 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Social Media Marketing Company Near Me


    June 23, 2021 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Internet Marketing Experts Near Me

    You need to take part in a contest for one of the highest quality blogs on the web. I am going to recommend this site!


    June 23, 2021 at 23:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. pharmaceptica.com

    is tadalafil and cialis the same thing https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 23, 2021 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Local Marketing Services


    June 24, 2021 at 02:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. veterinarian near me

    After checking out a handful of the blog posts on your web site, I really like your technique of blogging. I book-marked it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my web site as well and tell me what you think.


    June 24, 2021 at 02:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Google Marketing Specialist

    I was very happy to discover this website. I want to to thank you for your time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you book-marked to check out new information on your blog.


    June 24, 2021 at 03:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RV Mobile Repair Service Near Me


    June 24, 2021 at 04:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. RV Furnace Repair Near Me


    June 24, 2021 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Local Marketing Companies Near Me

    I love looking through an article that will make men and women think. Also, many thanks for permitting me to comment!


    June 24, 2021 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Google Marketing Specialist


    June 24, 2021 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. RV Generator Repair Near Me


    June 24, 2021 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. RV Repair Near Me Now


    June 24, 2021 at 20:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. camper repair center

    Good info. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I've saved as a favorite for later!


    June 24, 2021 at 20:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. RV Repair Near Me

    I want to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I certainly enjoyed every little bit of it. I've got you bookmarked to look at new things you postÖ


    June 25, 2021 at 01:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Sprinter Repair Orange County

    I used to be able to find good advice from your articles.


    June 25, 2021 at 03:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. RV And Truck Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 04:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    Howdy! I could have sworn Iíve been to this web site before but after going through many of the articles I realized itís new to me. Anyhow, Iím certainly delighted I discovered it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back often!


    June 25, 2021 at 04:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. RV Repair Shop Near My Location


    June 25, 2021 at 06:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RV Trailer Repair Near Me

    Hi! I simply wish to offer you a big thumbs up for the excellent info you have got here on this post. I will be returning to your site for more soon.


    June 25, 2021 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Yung Hollingshead

    What degree could I get involving music AND creative writing?


    June 25, 2021 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. rv solar installation los angeles

    When I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!


    June 25, 2021 at 08:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Styles Of Leadership

    Your style is unique compared to other people I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.


    June 25, 2021 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Nearby RV Repairs


    June 25, 2021 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Mellie Nacke

    You ought to take part in a contest for one of the greatest sites online. I am going to recommend this site!


    June 25, 2021 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you need to publish more about this subject, it may not be a taboo matter but generally folks don't talk about such topics. To the next! Cheers!!


    June 25, 2021 at 18:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RV Mobile Repair Near Me

    You are so cool! I do not think I've truly read through anything like this before. So wonderful to find someone with a few genuine thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing that's needed on the web, someone with some originality!


    June 25, 2021 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. RV Camper Repair Near Me


    June 25, 2021 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RV Repair Santa Ana


    June 25, 2021 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. www.pharmaceptica.com

    sulfur effects on body https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 25, 2021 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Minda Witherow


    June 26, 2021 at 00:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. pharmacepticacom

    can erectile dysfunction delay pregnancy https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 26, 2021 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Sprinter Repair Costa Mesa

    I blog often and I really thank you for your content. This great article has really peaked my interest. I will take a note of your blog and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed too.


    June 26, 2021 at 01:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However I am experiencing difficulties with your RSS. I donít know why I can't subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems? Anybody who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanx!!


    June 26, 2021 at 04:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. RV Repair San Clemente California

    Next time I read a blog, I hope that it won't disappoint me as much as this one. After all, I know it was my choice to read, but I genuinely thought you'd have something interesting to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something that you can fix if you were not too busy looking for attention.


    June 26, 2021 at 05:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV Repair Garden Grove

    Very good article. I certainly appreciate this website. Continue the good work!


    June 26, 2021 at 06:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RV Repair Shop Near Me

    That is a good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise infoÖ Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!


    June 26, 2021 at 08:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. RV Repairs Nearby


    June 26, 2021 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    Hi, I do believe this is a great blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to return once again since i have bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.


    June 26, 2021 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Janina Viker


    June 26, 2021 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Ardella Brensel


    June 26, 2021 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. RV Repairs Nearby

    Very good article. I will be facing some of these issues as well..


    June 26, 2021 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. RV Windshield Repair Near Me

    Can I simply say what a comfort to uncover an individual who actually understands what they're discussing over the internet. You definitely realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people should look at this and understand this side of the story. It's surprising you aren't more popular because you most certainly have the gift.


    June 26, 2021 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Leadership Prep School

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It's always interesting to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their websites.


    June 26, 2021 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Leadership Questions


    June 27, 2021 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. trace evidence podcast


    June 27, 2021 at 03:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. not another d&d podcast

    After looking over a number of the articles on your blog, I honestly appreciate your way of blogging. I added it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future. Please check out my web site as well and let me know your opinion.


    June 27, 2021 at 05:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Tory Leadership Election

    I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your information. The article has really peaked my interest. I will book mark your blog and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed too.


    June 27, 2021 at 06:04 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Leave a Reply to Poppy


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.