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Pollutants May Cause Brain Damage

Thu., May 30, 1996

A family of common environmental pollutants already suspected of contributing to reproductive problems may also cause brain damage, learning disorders and other problems in children, scientists say.

Evidence suggests that PCBs, dioxin and related chemicals could be causing mental and behavioral problems in children whose mothers were exposed to them, psychiatrist Peter Hauser said Wednesday.

“There are numerous studies now that suggest that environmental toxins affect behavior,” said Hauser, of the University of Maryland. He and several colleagues will detail those studies today at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

The researchers are calling for more study into endocrine disrupters, a family of environmental pollutants thought to interfere with natural hormones. Scientists previously have warned that endocrine disrupters may be responsible for reproductive problems such as decreased sperm counts and increased rates of breast and testicular cancer. But now, they’d like to turn a spotlight on the brain as well.

The scientists cited research in the Great Lakes region showing that children whose mothers had eaten large amounts of PCB-contaminated fish before becoming pregnant performed less well on tests of cognitive ability and had smaller heads and weaker reflexes than children whose mothers didn’t eat fish.

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