The top 10 toxic chemicals suspected to cause autism and learning disabilities

April 27, 2012

An ~18 month old boy with autism, obsessively stacking cans (credit: Countincr/Wikimedia Commons)

The current (April 2012) issue of Environmental Health Perspectives calls for increased research to identify possible environmental causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in America’s children and presents a list of the top ten target chemicals in consumer products likely to contribute to these conditions:

1. Lead
2. Methylmercury
3. PCBs
4. Organophosphate pesticides
5. Organochlorine pesticides
6. Endocrine disruptors
7. Automotive exhaust
8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
9. Brominated flame retardants
10. Perfluorinated compounds

The National Academy of Sciences reports that 3 percent of all neurobehavioral disorders in children, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are caused by toxic exposures in the environment and that another 25 percent are caused by interactions between environmental factors and genetics.

All Environmental Health Perspectives papers are free to read. One paper in the current issue found evidence linking smoking during pregnancy to Asperger’s disorder and other forms of high-functioning autism; two show that PCBs disrupt early brain development; and a fourth suggests further exploring the link between pesticide exposure and autism.

Ref.: Philip Landrigan, Luca Lambertini, Linda Birnbaum, A Research Strategy to Discover the Environmental Causes of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2012 DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1104285 (open access)

Ref.: Bellinger DC 2012. A Strategy for Comparing the Contributions of Environmental Chemicals and Other Risk Factors to Neurodevelopment of Children. Environ Health Perspect 120:501-507.DOI: (open access)

Ref.: Starks SE, Hoppin JA, Kamel F, Lynch CF, Jones MP, Alavanja MC, et al. 2012. Peripheral Nervous System Function and Organophosphate Pesticide Use among Licensed Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study. Environ Health Perspect 120:515-520. DOI: (open access)

Ref.: Boucher O, Burden MJ, Muckle G, Saint-Amour D, Ayotte P, Dewailly É, et al. 2012. Response Inhibition and Error Monitoring during a Visual Go/No-Go Task in Inuit Children Exposed to Lead, Polychlorinated Biphenyls, and Methylmercury. Environ Health Perspect 120:608-615. DOI: (open access)