I am an elementary school music teacher – a position which is commonly referred to as a music specialist. Music specialists teach general music classes – a combination of singing, playing instruments, learning rudimentary theory and music appreciation – to every child in a school.
This year I was transferred to a new school. So as not to bore you with the full explanation of why this happened, let me just say it was definitely not my nor my principal’s choice but was rather mandated by higher-ups in the human resource department wanting scheduling convenience. Due to my particular situation, I got caught in the cross hairs of this desire for convenience and long story short, I have been moved from a very high performing school to a very low performing one. The socioeconomic difference between these schools is like comparing the incomes of surgeons to hospital orderlies.
So what does this have to do with Sleuth4Health?
Every year I receive documents on kids who have severe allergies and other health problems. This particular year, I was also made aware of how many incoming kindergartners are already identified as learning disabled or requiring some kind of special ed or academic intervention.
Here is what is interesting: the amount of kids with allergies is much lower than it was at my former school. This is interesting to me because several months ago, I did a radio interview with Trent Loos on his show “Rural Route” and we discussed, in a very anecdotal way, how it seems that the more affluent kids have the most noticeable rise in allergies. The issues of massive fear of germs, of keeping your kids indoors and out of the dirt that could actually help their immune systems develop, or the overuse of antibacterial soap all came up. Is there a connection? Perhaps.
The second interesting fact is that in my new building, 22 of roughly 68 kindergartners are entering school already identified as requiring at least one learning or academic intervention of some sort. A full one third of kids! That is unheard of. That number does not even take into account how many more will be identified as the year progresses. I was out with some teacher friends last week and we were discussing this shocking number and one teacher called out in rhetorical fashion, “What is wrong with our kids?!”
That is a very good question. As one who sees hundreds of kids every day, year after year, I will say that even during the timeline of my career I’ve seen kids require more and more learning resources and interventions. Yes, that is an anecdotal statement and no, I don’t have data at my fingertips to support it, but I bet I could find it if I looked hard enough and as someone who is in the trenches every day with kids, I bear witness to this fact.
One sigh of relief for me in my personal journey was to learn that there is NO evidence to suggest it is GMOs that are causing this increase in learning problems, despite what the fervent activists might claim. The correlation is made time and time again that the rise in cognitive disorders started when GMOs were introduced into our food. I feel like such a big girl now when I say that correlation does not equal causation! There is simply no evidence to make a case of this. Yes, so-called evidence is constantly being made up, cherry picked and propagandized but that’s a whole other story.
There is, however, substantial and reliable evidence to suggest that polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) flame retardants, commonly found in polyurethane foam products and electronics, could be and likely are causing cognitive damage in young children and that lower socio-economic groups could experience more exposure. These chemicals are commonly found in the padding below your carpet, in your bed, couch or television screen. They are most commonly found in polyurethane foam products and electronics. One possible explanation for this is that though some (but not all) PBDEs have been banned by the FDA in new products, there are countless products still in circulation that are full of the long lasting chemicals – in homes, in thrift stores, garage sales, etc. It can reasonably be assumed that lower socioeconomic households could likely have a higher percentage of these older products. For a complete article about PBDEs with tables and citations, please read a recent post of mine here.
The purpose of this post is not to unequivocally say that PBDEs are causing these issues, but I am trying to bring attention to the fact that something really could be up with the general health and cognition of children – across all income brackets. It has been rightly postulated that there is some over diagnosing of these problems going on but even if you account for that, there is still an increasing number of affected kids.
It is understandable that people want answers. GMOs are such a convenient and wonderful scapegoat. Everyone has to eat after all. But guess what? Everyone either currently has or has had exposure to PBDEs of some kind in their home and work environments too – in roughly the same time frame.
As I said in my earlier post on this topic, it is surprising that no one marches against PBDEs, or collects signatures to have them labeled or completely banned from our world. There is an impressive body of research that shows real and measurable harm – so much so that as I mentioned earlier, the FDA took some action. If activists jumped on the PBDE bandwagon, they wouldn’t even have to make up lies! They could cite countless pubmed studies because the evidence is plentiful. Science’s most skeptical curmudgeons could not scoff at it.
In conclusion I’ll repeat that yes, there does really appear to be something affecting our children’s health and cognition. As with bee die-off, it is likely a combination of factors – with PBDEs perhaps being one of them. I think one could hypothesize that over-consumption of processed foods may belong on the list as well. That said, it is a waste of time to chase after GMOs in and of themselves as culprits though, as there is no hard science to support that position, much to the chagrin of fist-pounding activists who will probably write in the comment section below that I am an industry shill. That doesn’t even phase me anymore. I’m looking for the truth.
Below you will find just a small sample of all of the research and articles about PBDEs. They are also the sources I used for my information.
Update: By chance I was just looking at twitter and found a similar article to the above written by Bernie Mooney on his informative and entertaining blog The Progressive Contrarian. His article is titled Why Your Kids Are Fat And Sickly. We were not in cahoots on these two posts. Pure coincidence!
Evaluation of DNA Damage Induced by 2 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether Flame Retardants/Abstract/International Journal of Toxicology
PBDEs in US Mother’s Milk/pubmed
Contamination of U.S. Butter with PBDEs from Wrapping Paper. /Arnold Schecter, Sarah Smith, Justin Colacino, Noor Malik, Matthias Opel, Olaf Paepke, Linda Birnbaum/Environmental Health Perspectives, 2010
EPA ACTION PLAN & SIGNIFICANT NEW USE RULES
PBDEs Action Plan Summary/EPA/Existing Chemicals
PBDEs Significant New Use Rules/EPA/Existing Chemicals
ARTICLES & BLOG POSTS
PBDE Flame Retardants/Center for Environmental Research & Children’s Health (CERCH)
Flame Retardants Linked to Neurodevelopmental Delays In Children/UC Berkley News Center
Flame Retardants Linked to Lower IQs, Hyperactivity in Children/Scientific American
Flame Retardant People/About.Com/Chemistry
Chemical Companies Are Grilled About Flame Retardants/Chicago Tribune
FDA Efforts to Curb Harmful Flame Retardants May Be Delayed by Industry/McCready, Garcia & Leet Law Offices/12/29/2012
PBDEs: The Toxic Flame Retardants/Alliance For a Clean and Healthy Maine
Butter Contaminated By Flame Retardant /Science Daily