Chemicals in consumer products linked to lower IQs in children

Scientists find common chemicals can negatively impact pregnant women.

Chemicals in consumer products linked to lower IQs in children
Pixabay/Getty Images.
  • Researchers find a link between the use of chemicals by pregnant women and lower IQs in children by age 7.
  • The scientists looked at chemical exposure in women in the first trimester of pregnancy.
  • The issue particularly affects boys.


Researchers found that exposure to certain chemicals in consumer products during the first trimester of pregnancy is linked to lower IQ in children by age 7. Among the first of its kind, the study, carried out by scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Karlstad University, Sweden, linked mixtures of suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals to prenatal neurodevelopment.

The research analyzed data from SELMA, a study of Swedish mothers and children during the first trimester of pregnancy, measuring 26 chemicals in the blood and urine of 718 mothers. The chemicals included bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in plastic food and drink containers, as well as pesticides, phthalates, and others. Some of the 26 are established to affect the endocrine (hormone) activity while others are suspected to do so.

The scientists revisited the families when children reached age 7, finding that the kids whose mothers had greater amounts of chemicals in their system while pregnant exhibited lower IQ scores. This particularly affected boys, whose scores were two points lower. From all the chemicals, the greatest contribution to lower IQ was found to be from the compound bisphenol F (BPF), a BPA-replacement.

Credit: Environmental International

Other potentially harmful chemicals included the pesticide chloropyrifos, polyfluoroalkyl substances from cleaning products, triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps, soft polyvinyl chloride plastics and phthalates, which are used in cosmetics as well as numerous other products like soaps, nail polish, hairspray, shower curtains, raincoats, car interiors and even dryer sheets, as reported Scientific American.

Many of the chemicals only stay in the body for a short period of time, indicating that even being exposed to them briefly can have a negative effect. Previous studies linked endocrine disruptors to neurodevelopmental issues in children.

Eva Tanner, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, put their study in perspective —

"This study is significant because most studies evaluate one chemical at a time; however, humans are exposed to many chemicals at the same time, and multiple exposures may be harmful even when each individual chemical is at a low level," said Tanner.

Why ‘mom guilt’ is an unreasonable term

Professor Carl-Gustaf Bornehag of Karlstad University reiterated that being exposed to chemical mixtures in regular consumer products can affect the developing brains of children. Even chemicals that are supposed to be safer, like BPF, are not likely any better.

The scientists call for more research to confirm and expand upon their findings.

Check out the study here, published in Environment International.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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