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The Project TENDR National Conference: Three Takeaways on the Latest on the Impact of Exposures to Chemicals on a Child’s Brain Development

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

What is Project TENDR?

As readers of Real Answers with Dr. Lavin will recall, Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental NeuroDevelopmental Risks) is a rather unique consortium of the nation’s top scientists who have devoted entire careers to the question: which chemicals can damage the development of our children’s minds?  Along with these top scientists, Project TENDR has invited leading clinicians and policy advocates to join in the effort to protect all our children from serious damage to their developing minds from chemicals in their environment.

Last year we presented the publication of the long-awaited Project TENDR Consensus in which decades of science was synthesized into presentation of six examples of chemicals now known to harm the formation and function of a child’s mind.  Here is that paper.

Its release had an impact almost immediately, as it was enthusiastically promoted by the past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist.  I was honored to represent Project TENDR with this physician and the leaders of Project TENDR when we presented a formal briefing for the staff of the US Senate and House in Washington last year.  Since then TENDR has published the first two of its detailed policy recommendations, concrete steps the nation needs to take to stop exposing our children to these known toxins to the developing brain.  The first out was for lead, the second just published was on organo-phosphate pesticides.  These papers can, and hopefully will soon, serve as the basis for US policy on preventing harm to our children’s minds.

Three Very Recent Takeaways from the Recent National Project TENDR Meeting

Just in October of 2018, I was very pleased, as a member of the Project TENDR group, to attend their national conference, in Airlie, Virginia, near DC.   Again, many of the nation’s leading scientists on the epidemiology and neurotoxicology of chemicals in our air and water and their real world impact on our children gathered.  The conference was quite powerful, as were my conversations before and after.

Here are three items I found most powerful:

  1. You can right now decrease your risk of a child developing autism by as much as 40%.

I learned that 2 studies have been published, one in the US, one in Norway, using two different study methods, that both observed a rather staggering impact of taking folic acid supplement, before, during, and after the time of conception.

This impact was not observed if the folic acid was begun only after someone found they were pregnant, which typically happens some weeks after conception.

But, if a group of women take 800 mcg of folic acid every day, starting sometime before conception, and so during conception and the months following conception, then that group’s children had 40% fewer cases of autism than the groups that did not take folic acid at this dose and timing.

It is too early to know if such a practice would actually drop the chance of everyone having a child develop autism by 40% but the possibility is clearly present for this to be true.

If it proved true, it would a most powerful development,the possibility that we might drop the chance of a child developing autism by 40% would be extraordinary.

  1. There is broad agreement that almost everyone is exposed to chemicals that cause harm to brain development.

This was not a new item, but one forcefully once again confirmed.  Perhaps the most dramatic example of real world impact of chemicals on our lives is with the impact of lead on crime in the US.  Three authorities on lead have confirmed to me that the data are very clear that when lead was taken out of paint and gasoline in the 1970’s it led to a real world drop in brain damage from lead, that now accounts for about 60% of the historic drop in violent crime in the nation.  There are so many neurotoxic chemicals in our water and air that eliminating the next one may not create as dramatic a change, but the point remains.  Why expose our children to poisons we know hurt their brains?

  1. The enormous value of the precautionary rule, or why is it so hard to protect our children?

In the United States today, if you choose to manufacture a chemical and expose all Americans young and old to it, there is little one has to do to be allowed to do so.   That leaves the burden of proof of harm on the consumer.  We all know how well that works.  It took 50 years (!) once we knew lead was neurotoxic to have it removed from gasoline and paint.  It still remains in airplane fuel, and much of US soils around homes built prior to the 1970’s.  Industry has to do very, very little to even raise doubt if one of its products is harmful, leaving all of us harmed as the debates swirl.

In Europe, the precautionary principle is active.  We use it here in the US too, but only if the chemical is a drug.  As we all know, if you want to make a drug in the US, it is on you to prove it is safe.  If you don’t prove that, you can’t sell it.  That is how every chemical is in Europe.  Their chemical economies are doing just fine, just like our pharmaceutical companies are under their burden of proof.

I strongly urge our nation, the US, to adopt this standard.  No chemical should be released into our air or water without first establishing it will not cause serious harm.


  1. As hard as it is to think about, it is a fact that many chemicals in our air and water damage our babies’ and children’s developing minds.  They play a role in the development of autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and learning disorders.
  2. This only happens by our choice as a nation.  We as a nation have the ability to stop this from happening, and should.
  3. On a positive note, we have preliminary proof, from 2 independent studies, that if a woman takes 800 mcg of folic acid prior to, during, and after conception, the risk of that child developing autism could drop as much as 40%.
  4. The US should adopt the same rule used in the marketing of drugs to all chemicals, first one must prove it is safe, before sales and exposures.


To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin


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