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“Demain, tous crétins?” Arte, 22.35, 11 November 2017
Brussels, 7 November 2017 – Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals may explain the fall in IQ and the explosion in mental development problems in children that have taken place over the past 20 years.
The French TV documentary, “Demain, tous crétins?” (Brains in danger?), which makes the case for this worrying proposition, is due to be screened on the French and German television channel, Arte at 22.35 pm (CET) on 11 November 2017. (1)
Until now, exposure to endocrine – or hormone – disrupting chemicals (EDCs) has most often been associated with falling fertility rates and increases in certain cancers. In this 56-minute feature film, scientists show why they are convinced that exposure to chemicals is disturbing normal brain development in children, especially during the first three months of life in the womb.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) has welcomed the documentary as a contribution to raising awareness of the health problems associated with exposure to chemicals.
“This documentary provides another important perspective on the devastating effects for children and future generations of our society’s addiction to chemicals. Decision makers must wake up from their inertia and take concrete measures as soon as possible to reduce our exposure. A number one priority is the introduction of science-based identification criteria for endocrine disruptors,” says Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).
The film highlights a laboratory study on tadpoles by Professor Barbara Demeneix (3), an expert in endocrinology and author of the book “Toxic Cocktail”, which inspired the documentary. The study indicated that the brain development of premature frogs is affected by exposure to a low-dose of various chemicals suspected of being endocrine disrupters. This finding is unsettling because the thyroid hormone in frogs is identical to that in humans and the chemicals administered are similar (in content and dose) to those to which humans are exposed in daily life. It therefore appears highly likely that human brain development in the womb is also affected by exposure to chemicals that disrupt this vital hormone system.
Prof Demeneix says: “Today’s environment is full of chemicals that can interfere with thyroid hormone production and action. This is disquieting because thyroid hormone is essential for normal brain development and function. Interference with the human thyroid hormone system as a result of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in our bodies is the most likely cause of the fall in overall IQ and increased rates of ADHD and autism (4) that we have seen in recent decades.”
The documentary explains how the process takes place. The production of thyroid hormones requires iodine, consumed in iodised salt and fish. Some mothers in Europe and elsewhere are deficient in iodine during pregnancy. In the past, children that lacked thyroid hormone were doomed to become cretins, hence the title of the film in French. But the scientists say that a bigger problem is the human body’s inability to distinguish between iodine and traces of synthetic chemicals in our bodies which have a similar molecular structure. When producing thyroid hormone, the body sometimes mistakes iodine with traces of fluorine, chlorine and bromine released from the families of chemicals containing these elements. Many man-made chemical families contain these elements and find their way into the body.
Everyday exposure to these multiple chemical families is ubiquitous. Chlorine-based chemicals include PCBs and the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which is used extensively in agricultural crop spraying today (5). Chemicals in the fluorine family include perfluorinated compounds found in the coatings of non-stick cooking utensils, such as Teflon, and brominated flame retardants are widely used in certain fabrics and foam furnishings. The TV film directors, Sylvie Gilman (6) and Thierry de Lestrade identify what they see as the solutions to this silent onslaught on our brains. They say that scientists, politicians and an informed public, working together, can push for more effective regulation of toxic chemicals and a simple and cheap public health programme to address iodine deficiency. Meanwhile, they recommend that viewers avoid bisphenols, perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, triclosan, pesticides and flame retardants contained in certain toys, clothes, food, plastics, cooking utensils and cleaning products. These chemicals are believed to be particularly harmful to the brains of the foetus and young children. A website about the documentary provides information on prevention. (7)