Environment

This is your brain on lead, and lots of other nasty pollutants

A "Water Pickup" sign points to a bottled water distribution center in Flint, Michigan in January. In an effort to save money, state officials running Flint's affairs implemented changes to the city's water system that resulted in widespread lead contamin

A "Water Pickup" sign points to a bottled water distribution center in Flint, Michigan in January. In an effort to save money, state officials running Flint's affairs implemented changes to the city's water system that resulted in widespread lead contamination, and then largely ignored residents' complaints.

Credit:

REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The water crisis gripping Flint, Michigan has exposed thousands of the city’s residents to dangerous lead levels, triggering a federal emergency declaration and a national conversation about basic public health protections. Lead can be toxic to the brain, and the developing brains of children can be particularly vulnerable.

The Flint example is hardly unique, though. Many other American cities have faced lead-contaminated water. And an expanding list of common substances, including some pesticides and flame retardants, may also be linked to significant developmental and neurological conditions such as ADHD in children.

On Friday, from noon-1 pm EST, The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, PRI’s The World and WGBH presented a live conversation and webcast on Chemical Exposures and the Brain: The Flint Water Crisis and More.

Moderated by The World’s environment editor Peter Thomson, the forum examined those links and the implications for both children and adults, and explored public policy successes and failures in safeguarding the public’s health against neurotoxicants.

Panelists included Jeffrey Griffiths, Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and former chair of the US EPA Drinking Water Committee, Science Advisory Board; Philippe Grandjean, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Marc Weisskopf, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Kimberly Gray, Program Director of Children’s Environmental Health at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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