Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan Calls for Expanded Research Into Environmental Causes of Autism

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan  has published, in the April 201 edition of Current Opinion in Pediatrics,   an article  titled  What causes autism? Exploring the environmental contribution in which the he calls for expanded research into environmental causes of autism.  As set out in the abstract summary:

"Expanded research is needed into environmental causation of autism. Children today are surrounded by thousands of synthetic chemicals. Two hundred of them are neurotoxic in adult humans, and 1000 more in laboratory models. Yet fewer than 20% of high-volume chemicals have been tested for neurodevelopmental toxicity. I propose a targeted discovery strategy focused on suspect chemicals, which combines expanded toxicological screening, neurobiological research and prospective epidemiological studies."

Dr. Landrigan notes that genetic factors are implicated in causing autism but only in a very small number of cases and they do not explain key clinical and epidemiological features. He suggests as a hypotheses that early environmental factors could contribute.  Dr. Landrigan notes two important indirect sources of support for the hypothesis: "studies demonstrating the sensitivity of the developing brain to external exposures such as lead, ethyl alcohol and methyl mercury" and, more importantly, "studies specifically linking autism to exposures in early pregnancy – thalidomide, misoprostol, and valproic acid; maternal rubella infection; and the organophosphate insecticide, chlorpyrifos."

"measured 212 chemicals in people's blood or urine—75 of which have never before been measured in the U.S. population. The new chemicals include acrylamide, arsenic, environmental phenols, including bisphenol A and triclosan, and perchlorate"

I noted that this alarming report had been released just days before Christmas when it would attract little public attention. But I am not a scientist and even worse, I am a parent of an autistic child, which means that my opinion about the realities of autism disorders,  is generally worth less than nothing in public health authority circles.  I am very pleased that someone as distinguished as Dr. Landrigan has in fact been paying attention to the possible role played by untested synthetic chemicals in causing autism in children. For those who do not know who Dr. Philp J. Landrigan is I am citing, in full his bio,  as listed on the Environmental Health Perspectives site:

"Philip J. Landrigan, MD
Center for Children's Health and the Environment
Department of Community &  Preventive Medicine
Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Philip J. Landrigan, a pediatrician, is the Ethel H. Wise Professor and chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He also holds a professorship in pediatrics at Mount Sinai. He directs the Mount Sinai Center for Children's Health and the Environment. Landrigan is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and is currently editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. He has served in many other capacities, including editor of Environmental Research and committee chair at the NAS on Environmental Neurotoxicology (NAS 1992) and on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children (NAS 1993).

The report of the NAS committee that Landrigan chaired on pesticides and children's health was instrumental in securing passage of the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, the major federal pesticide law in the United States. In New York City, he served on the Mayor's Advisory Committee to Prevent Childhood Lead Paint Poisoning and on the Childhood Immunization Advisory Committee. He is chair of the New York State Advisory Council on Lead Poisoning Prevention. From 1995 to 1997, Landrigan served on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran's Illnesses. In 1997 and 1998, he served as senior advisor on children's health to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He was responsible at the U.S. EPA for helping to establish a new Office of Children's Health Protection."

Hopefully Dr. Insel and the IACC will take seriously the warning sounded by Dr. Landrigan. With his qualifications and experience his is a voice that should be heeded if we are to ever find out what is happening to our children, what is causing them to develop so many neurodevelomental disorders in such alarming numbers.  Rooting endlessly through the genetic family histories of autistic children has not  helped.  Fudging the facts, distorting the picture by periodic DSM changes will not help our children. It is time the IACC and other public health authorities joined respected voices like Dr. Landrigan, Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Dr. Jon Poling and others who have called for research into the environmental causes of autism disorders.  

Autism is rising. It is time to quit the genetic stalling game and find out why.

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