Environmental chemical exposures and neurodevelopmental impairments in children

David C. Bellinger


Children are widely viewed as the population subgroup that is most vulnerable to the toxicities that result from exposure to environmental chemicals. Their enhanced vulnerability is due to a variety of behavioral and physiologic factors. For many chemicals, the central nervous system (CNS) is the most sensitive target organ. In general, the impacts depend on a chemical’s mode of action, the dose, and the stage of development at which exposure occurs. This paper surveys the toxicology of environmental chemicals, specifically the impacts on children’s intellectual development. It focuses on metals (or metalloids), including mercury, lead, arsenic, fluoride, as well as on pesticides, air pollution, synthetic organic chemicals, and endocrine disruptors. The final section discusses issues germane to estimating the global burden of disease associated with exposures to neurotoxic environmental chemicals.